JUST LOOKING (2000) ** Ryan Merriman, Gretchen Mol, Patti LuPone, Peter Onorati, Ilana Levine, Richard V. Licata, Joseph Franquinha, Amy Braverman, Alllie Spiro-Winn, John Bolger. (Dir: Jason Alexander) I've always been nostalgic for the 1950s. I can't pinpoint it except maybe that everything back then seemed so innocent, happy, carefree and life was good. I guess it can be blamed for the idealistic interpretations of 'Happy Days' and 'American Grafitti' (although that film was circa 1962 but heavily loaded with '50s jukebox classics). It just never seemed
How naïve but in this look back at the decade of Ike, Elvis and The Korean Conflict, Jason Alexander (you know, The Artist Formerly Known As George Costanza of 'Seinfeld' fame) makes his big-screen directorial debut with this unlikely teen sex comedy
set in 1955 New York.
Specifically in The Bronx focusing on protagonistic teenager budding for his first sexual awakening, Lenny Levine (newcomer and uncannily Tim Matheson lookalike Merriman) who has set his summer goal to watch a couple 'do it' no matter what it takes.
But Lenny has his cards stacked against him when his well-meaning and overprotective Jewish mother Sylvia (LuPone) and her second husband, Polinsky (Licata), the portly butcher who Lenny hates vehemently ship him off to her pregnant sister Norma and her Italian-American husband Phil (Levine, 'Seinfeld' fans will remember as the 'ya gotta see the baby' loudmouth and Onorati, respectively) to stay at their house in Queens and work in Phil's delicatessen. Lenny is at first upset and figures his goal is ruined until he is befriended by co-worker and fellow pervert in training John (Franquinha) who informs the newcomer to the neighborhood that he's part of a 'sex club' which includes two girls, all-too knowing about the subject four-eyed Alice (Braverman) and yet-to-get-her-period Barbara (Spiro-Winn), who all become fast friends pursuing Lenny's quest.
To make things even more interesting is the discovery of regular customer Hedy, (Mol finally doing some decent acting after being called the next big thing nearly three years ago and best known for her 'Vanity Fair' cover practically screaming just that!), a luscious young nurse who lives on the same street as John and has Lenny salivating with joy figuring she'd be the perfect opportunity to scout out.
The whole premise sounds unsavory and unflattering and begins that way but midway through the storyline becomes sweet (at times a bit too much) but Alexander does a decent job by letting his actors room and character development to occur from making their stereotypical cookie cutter roles from becoming just that.
Merriman is quite likable (yet gotta admit he starts out annoying) and his sequence of getting to know the neighborhood goddess Mol is nicely done and believeable that Mol's Hedy is just as vulnerable to kindness.
Even with the heart the film suffers from some cloying parts and some obnoxious ones (the early obsession and talk of seeing sex in play which has a nice ironic turn at the film's climax you can see coming all along) however the least can be said is thankfully it's not another 'American Pie'; one is plenty.