By Joe Lozito
Sex and the Study
Dr. Alfred Kinsey approached his pioneering study of human sexuality with an unwaveringly scientific eye. So much so that it threatened to alienate his colleagues, family and friends. During writer-director Bill Condon's biopic "Kinsey", the doctor (Liam Neeson) is seen asking extremely personal questions in interviews, experimenting with extramarital affairs and watching what amounts to amateur pornography, but always with a stern scientific demeanor. Not until the final minutes of the film (I'm not giving anything away here) does Kinsey admit that love cannot be measured and therefore has no part in scientific research. While Mr. Neeson gives the doctor the occasional private moment of doubt, it's unclear if he himself was immune to its effect.
Throughout the film, Kinsey is largely seen as a crusader for justice against a fickle and oppressive 1940s society, one which at first seems amused by this zoologist turned sexual answerman, and then turns on a dime when Kinsey begins to get too much notoriety. Mr. Condon's script is unwaveringly pro-Kinsey and occasionally the opposition takes on a cartoonish prudishness. The worst offender being John Lithgow whose portrayal of Kinsey's fundamentalist preacher father sticks out as a caricature (perhaps the casting was a nod to his righteous reverend in "Footloose") until a quiet moment towards the end of the film which nearly redeems his whole performance.
A better understanding of Kinsey's upbringing might have gone a long way to supporting Mr. Neeson's wonderfully modulated and painfully vulnerable performance. It's a pleasure to see Mr. Neeson back in action after what has seemed like a full decade of odd decisions ("K-19: The Widowmaker", "Gun Shy" and, of course, "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace"). Playing his almost unbelievably patient wife, Laura Linney turns in yet another fine performance in what, conversely, has seemed like a decade of great decisions ("Mystic River", "p.s.", "You Can Count on Me"). The supporting cast is in equally fine form, particularly Peter Sarsgaard as Kinsey's assistant and a scene-stealing Lynn Redgrave as a woman who, in a moment of screen time, explains how Kinsey's books saved her life. It's one of many wonderful moments in Mr. Condon's quietly moving film.
Mr. Condon, who wrote and directed 1998's wonderful "Gods and Monsters" and wrote the screenplay for "Chicago", was up against several obstacles in bringing "Kinsey" to the screen, the most obvious being the MPAA. In order to achieve even an R-rating, the writer-director chose to take a decidedly clinical look at his subject, making this an oddly un-sexy film about sexuality. I can only assume that this was conscious decision on Mr. Condon's part and it makes sense. By removing emotion from his storytelling, as Dr. Kinsey would do in his research, Mr. Condon forces the audience to bring its own feelings to the subject matter. Judging from the audience's nervous giggles at the few shots of genitalia in the film, Mr. Condon's technique worked. That reaction would indicate that Dr. Kinsey's work was not only ahead of its time, but still has a long way to go.