“Kissing on the Mouth,” the debut feature by Joe Swanberg, is an odd duck in the world of DIY indie filmmaking. In this day and age where anyone with a camera and editing software can make a film, one grows leery of the deluge of homemade movies that arrive for review each week. Sadly, most of them aren’t really homemade movies as much as they’re “home movies” constructed solely to pay homage to a favorite indie filmmaker (see: Smith, Kevin or Tarantino, Quentin) and to be found funny only by friends of the cast and crew. Every once in a while you get a pleasant surprise as what happens with “Kissing on the Mouth.”
The irony of that jaded and cynical statement above is that it could easily be applied to “Kissing on the Mouth.” But then again, one can flip the film around and look at in a totally different way. Thus, this is not only an intelligent and honest film, it’s creative and fairly groundbreaking.
Director Joe Swanberg has assembled 3 friends to act in and produce this film about young people struggling to live their lives and along the way find out “what it all means.” In this case, we are introduced to roommates Patrick (Swanberg) and Ellen (Winterich). Ellen is having what she thinks is meaningless sex with her ex Chris (Pittman). However, by the way Chris wants to hang around and snuggle afterwards, we know he thinks it’s something more than casual. Patrick gets wind of the rekindled relationship and starts behaving like an annoying, subversive, jealous boyfriend even though he’s just an under-sexed roomie.
While all this may sound like a movie you’ve seen before, it’s important to mention a few disclaimers here. Most notable is that this movie has some realistic and graphic sex. We’re talking full frontal nudity from both sexes. While at first the graphic nature of said sex is shocking, after a while you notice it’s so real (in other words bland and normal) it becomes less shocking. The same can’t be said for the shower masturbation scene by director Swanberg which only raises the issues of “why is that there” and “is it really a money shot if it’s done all alone?”
Another important note is that this film was done without any script or set dialogue. It’s very much on the fly and improvised. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean the characters launch into diatribes about pop culture or annoying factoids about life and existence. Instead, silence speaks volumes here and through it we are slowly immersed into the personal world of these characters. Especially the world involving their bathroom habits.
All joking aside, “Kissing on the Mouth” is a brave and solid first effort from Swanberg. When I first saw it, I felt the need to to easily dismiss the sex and realism as art school pretension. Yet several little things from the film kept pestering me. Things not related to sex either. I watched it again and instead of the sex and casual yet realistic scenes grabbing me, I started to notice themes of personal space as well as those about being truthful with yourself and with others shining through.
I also gained more knowledge of the purpose and idea behind the film through it’s website. As I had already figured, this was quite an undertaking by Swanberg and crew and the website really added to my understanding and enjoyment of the film.
“Kissing on the Mouth” is going to raise some eyebrows and catch some flak for it’s graphic sex, ala Michael Winterbottom’s disastrous 9
Songs. But Swanbergs film is not only a vastly better film, it’s also about much more than sex. Not only does the film look amazing, it covers many layers of relationships in a way I’ve never seen before.