2004Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O’Donnell
he first week of January has to be the hardest time of year to be a film reviewer. The new crop doesn’t come out until the following weekend, and seeing anything released in the past few months, thanks to the annual Oscar hype, feels like you’re rehashing old news.
But you know what? I don’t care for once. I saw a great movie that I might have otherwise let slip by because it felt like the last interesting thing left in the theaters that I haven’t already grown tired of hearing about.
When piano notes start looking like sexual organs, it is a sign that the sex researcher has been doing his job for too long.
I’m talking, of course, about Bill Condon’s biopic Kinsey. Now, I knew this film would be great, but maybe I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as fantastic as it was. Kinsey is fascinating, brilliantly acted, visually engaging, and, I daresay, a bit shocking at times, though never, ever “lurid”, even by today’s insistently permissive yet still strangely puritanical standards. Throughout, the subject of sex is treated with faultless intellectual candor, and the subject of the man responsible for blowing the closet door off of human sexuality is revealed with surprising emotional intimacy.
The story deals with the life of pioneer sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, who strangely enough began his career as a zoologist and professor at Indiana University whose studies were focused exclusively on gall wasps. It isn’t until he hits a certain biological stumbling block of his own on his honeymoon night and benefits from some sound medical intervention that he realizes that true in-depth sexual knowledge is in otherwise short supply. When some of his newlywed students consult him on matters of intimacy, displaying an alarming ignorance, Kinsey strikes out to do what has never been done before; conduct a comprehensive study of human sexuality. By 1948 he has published “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” and managed to effectively freak out and educate more people than anyone could have ever dreamed possible.
Liam Neeson handles the role of Dr. Alfred Kinsey masterfully, at once shockingly point-blank in his unflinching sexual focus, yet still somehow charmingly innocent, and, well, a bit nerdy. Neeson makes Kinsey a supremely likeable guy, and manages to do so subtly enough to allow his costars a wide enough berth to do their thing, which is great because they do it superbly.
"Oooh, baby...that's a nice clipboard..."
The supporting cast is treated with almost as much value as the film’s subject, with a few notable exceptions. Timothy Hutton and Chris O’Donnell are never truly developed into fully three-dimensional characters the way Laura Linney’s and Peter Sarsgaard’s are, but fortunately those two unforgettable performances are graciously salvaged. Laura Linney as Kinsey’s wife Clara does it again, proving that she will always be one of the best things about any movie she is cast in. And Peter Sarsgaard’s performance as Kinsey’s protégé Clyde Martin is so mind-blowingly deft that if he doesn’t win best supporting actor, I will riot, I swear. Looting and all. I’m giving all electronics stores in my immediate vicinity plenty of time to organize some kind of level orange alert, okay? You’ve been warned.
Another character worth noting is John Lithgow as Kinsey’s hellfire and brimstone-conjuring preacher father. And also great, though suffering from the same syndrome of underdevelopment as O'Donnell and Hutton is Tim Curry, ironically (and with great relish) playing the part of the ultimate “just say no to sex” guy, Indiana University’s professor of hygiene. I’d have like to have seen more of the Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania play what basically amounted to his polar opposite for a bit longer, but I suppose I can’t have it all.
But Kinsey comes pretty close to having it all, and I’m grateful for the chance to have caught it. And if it sounds like your cup of tea, I’m sure you’ll be too.
By: Jen Cameron
Published on: 2005-01-10