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The Individual Politics of the Coming Out Process in “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “But I’m a Cheerleader”

Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, is set to hit U.S. theaters at the end of October. The first queer film to ever win the Palme D’Or, controversy has surrounded the film for its explicit sex scenes. Even before its U.S. release has garnered the film an NC-17 rating, being banned in Idaho and having reviews focus more on the sex scenes rather than the rest of the film.

While Keichiche’s film is flawed, many critics of the sex scenes bring up extremely valid points about the length, lack of realism and potential creepy exhibitionism that permeate these scenes. However, despite the questionable direction of Keichiche and the behind the scenes drama between the director and his actresses, Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos give tremendous performances as two women falling in love and in particular Exarchopoulos as a woman who is struggling to figure out her sexuality.

The coming out process has been depicted in gay and lesbian films in a multitude of ways. It’s a process that obviously differs from individual to individual, the way Adele figures out her sexuality in Blue is the Warmest Color is completely different than the trajectories of Jessica in Kissing Jessica Stein or Megan in But I’m a Cheerleader.

Unlike Blue is the Warmest Color, both Kissing Jessica Stein and But I’m a Cheerleader certainly did not have the kind of dramatic or critical clout that the award winning drama has. Both could be seemingly written off as being merely fluffy lesbian romantic comedies, but both films have nuanced, individual portraits of women coming out and figuring out their sexuality.

Released in 2001, Kissing Jessica Stein, co-written by and starring Jennifer Westfeldt follows Jessica as she navigates her dating life in New York. She’s in her late twenties and has been going on a series of awful blind dates with a bevy of terrible men. When a particularly poignant (and favorite) Rilke quote appears in the women seeking women section of the personal ads, Jessica tentatively answers it. She meets Helen, the writer of the ad, an art gallerist. [cont’d.]

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