REVIEW: UNDRESSING AMERICA

It makes deep sense that Alfred Kinsey, whose 1948 study "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" revolutionized American thinking about sex, was raised by a rigidly puritanical father. Dad, played by John Lithgow in Bill Condon's engrossing biopic "Kinsey," gave Sunday sermons denouncing the zipper as a fiendish new device that gives "speedy access to moral oblivion." Rebellion was the father of invention. Kinsey (sensitively played by Liam Neeson) wanted to burn away myth with science.

The battle between Kinsey father and son could be a microcosm of America's schizophrenia about sex--today, as well as in the 1950s, when Kinsey's study of female sexuality provoked outrage.

It's hard to think of a Hollywood movie that has focused so exclusively on sex. But writer-director Condon ("Gods and Monsters") keeps sensationalism at bay. He pays tribute to Kinsey as a pioneer. The drama, however, lies in the tensions between Kinsey's personal life and his scientific curiosity. It was his own sexual problems with his new wife, Clara (Laura Linney), that first got him thinking.

Things get more problematic when Kinsey and his inner circle of disciples (Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton and Chris O'Donnell) start using themselves and their wives as guinea pigs. There's a demagogic side to Kinsey's personality, not unlike his father's, but Condon doesn't wade too deeply into those waters, preferring the man's upbeat message rather than his sometimes ambiguous motives.

For a movie so frank and explicit, "Kinsey" has a soft spirit. Violins swell. The warmth of the Kinsey's unconventional marriage shines through. It's easy to imagine an edgier movie, but "Kinsey" is a celebration of diversity; it's about the solace knowledge can bring.

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