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Film / sex, lies, and videotape

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sex, lies, and videotape is a 1989 movie that marked the directorial debut of Steven Soderbergh. It launched the careers of Andie Macdowell and James Spader, but is most notable for revolutionizing the modern indie film industry, putting the Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival in the public awareness. The screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.

The movie tells the story of an unhappily married couple, up-and-coming lawyer John (Peter Gallagher) and sweet, sexually repressed Ann (Macdowell). John's having a torrid affair with Ann's sister, extroverted Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). Matters are complicated with the arrival of Graham (Spader), an old college friend of John's, a mysterious and sensitive man who collects interviews of women about their sexual experiences.


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This movie contains examples of:

  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Watching the sex interviews is how Graham gets off. Also, several women masturbate for him, including Cynthia.
  • Adorkable: Graham has little to no social filter, and both Ann and Cynthia refer to him as being weird or strange (and this is before his hobby is revealed). His lack of a social filter is because he's a recovering pathological liar, so he always tells the truth.
  • Anorgasmia: The story starts off with Ann Bishop Mullany having never had an orgasm with her current partner.
  • Betty and Veronica: John (Archie) is married with Ann (Betty), who is a nice girl. He has an affair with Cynthia (Veronica), who is hot-tempered and extrovert. For example, when Cynthia wants to make love to him, she gives him a phone call and asks him to come immediately.
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  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Graham doesn't lie. This is because he's a recovering pathological liar.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: Graham feels he's in this situation when he comes to stay with Ann and John.
  • Casanova Wannabe: The guy who's constantly hitting on Cynthia in her bar.
  • Celibate Hero: As part of his guilt over how he used to treat people, Graham tries to avoid getting close enough to a woman to the point that sex is a realistic possibility. The videotape interviews about sexual experiences are as close as he has been to actual sex for several years.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • When Graham arrives at John and Ann's home, there is a camera in the trunk of his car. This camera becomes important when he reveals that he films sex interviews of women.
    • Cynthia tells Ann that she has lost an earring. This does not seem to be important until Ann finds the earring in her bedroom, which shows that John has an affair with Cynthia.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Casanova Wannabe barfly usually uses this technique to hit on Cynthia.
  • Deep South: The film takes place in Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: It's left up to the viewer to decide whether or not Graham had sex with Ann after his video confession.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Graham has this reaction when Ann turns the camera back onto him.
  • Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: Both Graham and Ann have this going on.
  • Dysfunction Junction: The main characters are a frigid woman who has never had an orgasm, a man who constantly lies and cheats on his wife, a nymphomaniac who sleeps with her sister's husband, and an impotent man who only gets off watching videos of sex interviews of women.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: Lawyers as the lowest life form on Earth.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Completely and famously inverted. The hero and the heroine have dysfunctional sex lives. The antagonists have lots of great sex.
    • Subverted in that Ann reveals during her video confession that John was never really that pleasing for her.
  • Hollywood Personality Disorders: Graham was at one time (in the backstory) confident and hurtful (implied to have been something like a narcissist), but in his past had a Heel Realization leading to intense guilt. The result was a Heel–Face Turn that left him extremely afraid to even give himself the chance to hurt people. His actions after that, including when the film takes place, somewhat approximate Avoidant Personality Disorder, brought on by guilt. He appears to end up cured at the end by The Power of Love.
  • Jerkass: John
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Graham is impotent.
  • Love Dodecahedron: John is married with Ann, he has an affair with Cynthia and he slept with Elizabeth. Ann is married with John, but she is attracted to Graham. Elizabeth was Graham's girlfriend, but she slept with John. Graham plans to take up with Elizabeth again, but he is attracted to Ann. (And he gets off watching videos of many women including Cynthia.)
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Deconstructed. Ann is orderly and respectable, while her sister Cynthia is a slut. John is married with Ann, but he gets bored with her and has an affair with Cynthia. Ann also reveals that she is dissatisfied with her orderly life. She files for divorce and she starts a relationship with Graham.
  • The Mistress: Cynthia. John cheats on his wife with her on regular basis.
  • My Sensors Indicate You Want to Tap That: Without even meeting him, Cynthia seems to immediately catches onto the fact that Ann is attracted to Graham.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: At different times, Laura San Giacomo's drawl wavers from either nonexistentnote  to a little overdone, at least compared to Andie McDowell's consistent use of her own South Carolina accent.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Graham and John, respectively. They used to be more alike in college, but diverged wildly.
  • Sex Is Interesting
  • Sexless Marriage: What John and Ann's marriage has come to.
  • Sex with the Ex: Graham believes this will bring him some closure. Ann sees this as ridiculous and calls him out on it.
  • Shoutout: To Apocalypse Now. In the bar where Cynthia works, a patron imitates Marlon Brando in his role of Colonel Kurtz, and utters the following lines: "Are you an assassin? ... You're an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect bills."
  • Sibling Triangle: John is married with Ann and he has an affair with her sister Cynthia.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Good girl Ann versus slutty Cynthia.
  • Stepford Smiler: Ann acts like a happy wife, but she reveals to her shrink that she is dissatisfied with her life.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Graham has a very strange hobby: he films women who talk about sex and sometimes even masturbate. He gets off watching those videos. Nevertheless, he is cute and Ann is attracted to him.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Ann and Graham, provided you think that they don't have sex after his video confession.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • John is married, but he has an affair with his wife's sister Cynthia.
    • Elizabeth slept with John when she was Graham's girlfriend.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Ann.

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