‘sex, lies and videotape’: THR’s 1989 Sundance Review

In honor of the Sundance Film Festival’s 40th Anniversary, The Hollywood Reporter is looking back at the reviews of some of the festival’s biggest premieres. Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies and videotape established him as a filmmaking force and premiered at the fest when it was still called the United States Film Festival. THR’s original review is below:

John and Ann are on the fast track: He’s just been made partner, and she’s decorated their condo with exquisite good taste. They’re a Yuppie couple in all outward respects, but they don’t make love, and he’s fooling around with her sister. That’s the dark gist of this penetrating, moving and darkly funny independent feature. Voted the Audience Favorite at the United States Film Festival, sex, lies and videotape should win a distributor handsome notices as well as long Saturday-night lines of those in relationships– good, bad and indifferent.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

Although clinical in its rigor and insight into its characters’ individual needs and psyches, sex, lies and videotape is bounding, saucy entertainment that unearths some hard truths about surface modern relationships. In this witty but touching portrait of a relationship, screenwriter-director Steven Soderbergh delves beneath the outward appearance of a supposedly happily married couple. Their surface success, however, is due to the fact that he’s competitive and manipulative, which in his law practice, not surprisingly, has brought big financial rewards, while she’s docile and repressed, both emotionally and sexually. In short, they simply don’t connect, and while she wallows, he plays the field; and the star player is none other than his wife’s sexually charged sister.

Both nimble and forthright, sex, lies and videotape is a crafty, lean and open look at modern relation ships. Non-judgmental, its insights and revelations come naturally through the inner workings of its characters. Wonderfully, no hard themes or contemporary truths are posited it is a story about people.

The performances are layered and consistently engaging. As the dissatisfied couple, Peter Gallagher and Andie MacDowell are marvelous. In his self-centered and callow character, Gallagher adeptly shows the trace of vulnerability and the ambivalent desire to do the right thing. In her portrayal of the frustrated and frigid housewife, MacDowell wonderfully shows her character opening up to new feelings and insights about herself it is a wonderful glimpse of growth.

As MacDowell’s hedonistic sister, Laura San Giacomo is terrific, bringing to the fore the insecurities and strengths that shape her torrid desires and equally chilling frustrations. James Spader, as a lifelong friend who comes to visit and serves as the drama’s catalyst, brings appropriate freshness and the requisite paralysis to his role as a young man torn by terrible sexual frustrations. — Duane Byrge, originally published on Feb. 7, 1989.

Best of The Hollywood Reporter