If you’re a Jewish and/or LGBT woman living in this century, chances are you’re extremely familiar with the queer-ish-Jew-ish rom-com Kissing Jessica Stein.
If not, here’s a summary: Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt), a 28-year-old copyeditor who lives in a duplex apartment with a spiral staircase and an enviable built-in bookshelf, is having trouble meeting guys, particularly, eligible, Jewish guys. Her mom (one of Tovah Feldshuh’s best performances of all time, you’ll see) nags her about dating during Yom Kippur services during which Jessica interrupts the entire congregation with her best line in the film, “Shut up, I’m atoning.” It’s honestly so upsetting this movie was made in the pre-gif era because that would be the greatest Jewish gif of all time.
Meanwhile, downtown (where all trouble happens), Helen, a bi-curious (or bisexual, it’s unclear) gallerist, is sick of sleeping with/dating guys and wants to date ladies. Her gay male friends convince her to take out a personal ad in the paper, she and Jess accidentally match, and Jess goes through a life crisis in which she wants to convince herself that lesbian sex is not gross. Jess’s ex, who is both male and Jewish and her boss, lingers throughout the movie, coming to Scarsdale for Shabbat dinner with the Stein fam and — spoiler! — eventually winning Jessica back.
Thanks to the extreme lack of a) feminine lesbian representation and b) secular-ish Jewish representation on screen, this used to be my favorite movie, perhaps thanks to scenes depicting two chic New York City ladies sharing lipstick tips and then making out (before Jess gets the “ew” factor and has to pause mid-hook-up until the next date… have I mentioned this movie is slightly, okay, extremely, problematic?). Anyways, Helen ends up breaking up with her straight pal Jess, Jess falls for her ex, and her bi-curious phase is ostensibly over.
Discovering lesbian content I wasn’t previously aware of is always a minor (okay, major) shock. I live and breathe for queer lady entertainment, most specifically rom-coms (of which there are basically three) and sitcoms (putting The L Word in this category, because what else is there?).
So it was an extremely pleasant surprise when, feeling slightly tipsy on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, I scoped out Kissing Jessica Stein on Netflix and was rewarded instead with a new film To Each, Her Own, a French, lesbian rom-com with the following summary: “Just as Simone works up the courage to tell her conservative Jewish family she’s a lesbian, she finds herself attracted to a male Senegalese chef.” A preview featuring Simone and her partner, Claire, blowing out the candles on an anniversary cake, overlaid with some nagging by an observant, very French, very Jewish mom, sealed the film in my good book before I even watched it.
To Each, Her Own is basically the inverse of Kissing Jessica Stein, further justification that the French do everything better. Called “Les goûts et les couleurs” in French, which translates to Tastes and Colors (obviously a better title), the plot follows Simone, a modern Parisian woman who lives with her partner Claire in a one-bedroom flat in Paris. It’s unclear what Claire’s deal is, other than that she looks a lot like Simone, who, by the way, dresses mostly in gender neutral business attire and works at a bank (groan, but whatever).
While at lunch with a colleague one afternoon (this is France, so they actually dine in restaurants on weekdays), Simone is allured by the food at her favorite little Senegalese restaurant, where, apparently, she dines a lot. She soon realizes she’s attracted to the chef, a very tall, flirtatious Senegalese man (the opposite of Claire, and obviously not Jewish) who she’s riffed on opening a restaurant with one day (he would cook, she would do the books, naturally). Simone, who has been dedicated to her lesbianism since high school, is initially confused by this attraction. Further complicating things, her traditional Jewish family, with whom she often enjoys Shabbat dinner, is pressuring her to date a nice Jewish dude, or any Jewish dude. Really, any dude (but he should be Jewish).
The plot resonates with anyone who’s ever had a Jewish parent, which is perhaps the joy of this queer movie — you don’t have to necessarily know firsthand what it’s like to call your partner your roommate to understand the immense family pressure independent Jewish women of any sexual orientation experience today. There’s a recognizable tension when Simone finds out her mother and gay brother (more layers, you’ll see) are taking Yiddish singing classes. No, Simone doesn’t want in, but she naturally feels left out, an extension of the isolation she feels hiding her personal relationships from her family. In one comical scene, her brother drops by her place unexpectedly, and Simone explains that she and Claire live in a one-bedroom to save money, alternating who takes the bed. It’s the same way you maybe fibbed to a parent once in college about all the Shabbat dinners you were going to that were really AEPi parties. Maybe. At its core, To Each, Her Own is about the struggling between telling the truth and telling people-pleasing lies, all while finding your own truth.
And true to form, just like Kissing Jessica Stein, you’ll be enraged by the ending. Maybe. It’s a tres, tres French twist.