Alas, not a movie about yours truly – that would be called Kinesy – this is a well-meaning if occasionally corny biography of Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson), the influential Indiana State University professor whose post-World War II interviews with ordinary Americans about their sexual practices blew apart countless old-fashioned notions about sex in this country, and arguably opened the door to the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s.
I went to this film with expectations that were, perhaps, too high. I felt a film about this man and his work could, if done right, encourage discussion and debate amongst current moviegoers about sex; for in today's America, as always, sex is something that everybody thinks about but nobody talks about. So instead of learning more about each other, we have to settle with sensationalistic reports of celebrities' dalliances. Now, I'm as fascinated about people's sex lives as the next guy, but even amongst my closest friends, for all that we talk about, I know nothing about their sex lives.
But we were talking about Kinsey.
If I was disappointed in the film, it was not only by its surprisingly Hollywood sentiment – Alfred Kinsey was, if nothing else, totally unsentimental – but by its overly ambitious drive to cram in every detail possible about Kinsey's life.
This is a standard problem with most biopics. While Condon and his cast are open about the characters' sexuality – indeed, it would be criminal to make a film about the world's foremost sex researcher while ignoring his own sex life – the most interesting scenes, such as when we see Kinsey and his "unquestionably moral" team of researchers (Chris O'Donnell, Timothy Hutton, and a typically great Peter Sarsgaard) get a little too involved in their research (with their subjects, with each other's wives, and even, sometimes, with each other), are never fully examined, since Condon has to rush off to give his next history lesson.
This is a consistent letdown: There seems to be exactly one scene dealing with each aspect of Kinsey's life, and just as it starts to become something more than just a biopic, the story moves on. It's all the more frustrating because this is a well-made, entertaining, and genuinely brave film. Condon takes risks so assuredly that he clearly had the opportunity to explore deeper issues about sexuality and ethics. But he blew it, because he was too set on making a biopic.
Kinsey could have been remarkable if the film simply consisted of Kinsey's interviews, contrasted with the man and his staff themselves, giving us a portrait of the complicated nature of sex, science, even the human condition, rather than wasting time showing Kinsey begging for money for his research. Instead, stretching for a cohesive storyline, Condon places it on Kinsey's glum relationship with his puritan father (played by John Lithgow with an almost cartoonish animosity towards his son). Ho-hum. I thought we were finally beyond the old "Blame the Screwed-up Parent" approach to explaining a character's psychology. Talk about old-fashioned!