© 2004 Ray Wong
Much has been discussed, debated, studied, lauded and ridiculed about Alfred Kinsey’s studies on human sexuality. Bill Condon’s film, KINSEY, explores the man, his life, and how he changed the world.
Alfred Kinsey (Neeson) is an introspective yet resolute son of a hypocritical, abusive minister (Lithgow). Defying his father’s wishes, Kinsey becomes a zoologist, spending over twenty years studying and collecting gall wasps. During his tenure at Indiana University, he meets and later marries Clara “Mac” McMillen (Linney).
Kinsey’s foray into sexology comes about by accident when a married student couple consults him on their marital problems. Soon he starts a new graduate class on sexuality offered only to married couples, where he offers scientific, frank, and often embarrassing discussions. There, he meets and recruits graduate student Clyde Martin (Sarsgaard) to help him with his research. Realizing that what American couples do in their bedrooms goes far beyond the missionary position, Kinsey believes that the only truth lies in a scientific study, and the only way to carry out that study is by taking anonymous, objective, totally non-judgmental surveys across the wide spectrum of the country’s population. Together with Mac, Clyde and two other researchers – Wardell Pomeroy (O’Donnell) and Paul Gebhard (Hutton) – and backed by the school board and the Rockefeller Foundation, they embark on the groundbreaking yet controversial endeavor.
Meanwhile, the research opens Kinsey’s eyes about his own sex life. One of his most famous assertions is that human sexuality is complex, and people are rarely exclusively heterosexual or homosexual; instead, most people fall somewhere between a 0-6 scale. Admitting that he’s probably a 3, Kinsey lets himself seduced by the bisexual Clyde. He even tells Mac about it. Initially hurt and disgraced, Mac finally accepts Kinsey for who he is, and eventually carries on an open relationship with both men as well.
Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” is an overnight sensation, propelling him to celebrity status for over a decade. However, his team’s unorthodox research methods come under close scrutiny. When the follow-up “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” comes out, it creates an uncomfortable and controversial stir. As his team continues on their research on sex offenders, the lid finally blows open and they start to lose support and funding. Kinsey must now look at his life’s work and his personal relationships and decides where he wants to go from there.
As the title character, Neeson (LOVE ACTUALLY) is phenomenal. Kinsey was a complex, strange and damaged man who not necessary knew when he was hurting or offending others, including his loved ones. Neeson portrays him with utter sincerity, respect and empathy. Linney (LOVE ACTUALLY) is, as always, better than good as Mac. Her handling of the character’s internal struggles, love and support for her husband, and self-discovery is wonderfully rendered. Sarsgaard (GARDEN STATE) is equally affecting as Clyde. Normally his character would appear creepy and lecherous, but his performance brings a high level of charm and warmth that you can’t help but understand why both Kinsey and Mac, men and women, fall for him.
The supporting cast, including Platt (PIECES OF APRIL), Hutton (SECRET WINDOW), O’Donnell (VERTICAL LIMIT), is good but not exceptional. Curry (SCARY MOVIE 2) and Lithgow (SHREK), however, offer the same caricature we’ve seen many times. Lynn Redgrave shows up in a great cameo near the end of the film.
Writer-director Condon (GODS AND MONSTERS) is a gifted writer. His script provides many thought provoking moments and reflections, between uncomfortable squirms for the audience. The true strength of his script is the lack of judgment, much like Kinsey’s own research. He simply presents the facts and events, whether it is adultery or homosexuality or other “perversions,” and lets the audience draw their own conclusions. The dialogue is tight and effective. The editing pieces the bio-pic together with great clarity.
Condon’s direction is crisp; the story flows very well between current timeline and flashbacks. Often he is able to stay on a character and let the actor do their magic, gripping the audience with the raw material and emotions without any frills.
At 118 minutes, however, the film feels rushed at times. It’s simply too short and aggressive to cover such a fascinating and diverse life and work. As it is, KINSEY is a tour de force effort on the lead performance and writing fronts, but falls a little short as a bio-pic.
Stars: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O’Donnell, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, Dylan Baker, Veronica Cartwright
Director: Bill Condon
Writer: Bill Condon
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, frontal nudity, graphic descriptions
Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.6 out of 10