May 23, 2013
Nicole Holofcener: The Truthdig Interview
Posted on Apr 6, 2006
By Sheerly Avni
Female actresses complain frequently about the lack of interesting roles for women on the big screen. They should try being a female audience member.
Over the years, my friends and I have developed a game along the lines of a feminist version of Wheres Waldo: Whenever we leave a theater particularly disgusted by the bimbos, princesses or, worse, ғempowering models thrust onscreen for our popcorn-tossing pleasure, we comb through every movie we can remember, looking for oneԗjust onerecent film sporting a female character who bore any relation, in her preoccupations, demeanor and full-bloodedness, to anyone we knew.
Thankfully, we could count on Nicole Holofcenerגs moviesall two of them. First there was דWalking and Talking (1996) Ԗ the story of two young women whose friendship begins to fall apart when one announces her engagement. Five years later came Lovely & AmazingӔ (2001), a film about a few weeks in the lives of three sisters whose mother has gone in for plastic surgery. Both movies, carefully detailed and character driven, tell small, sharply drawn stories about a specific sliver of upper-middle-class-urban life. Men do figure in Holofceners world, but not as the villains, heroes or Prince Charmings of standard chick flicks. ItҒs the relationships between the womenmothers, daughters, sisters, friendsחwhich drive her plots forward. The men matter, of course, as partbut only partחof what these women need in their lives.
Her newest film, Friends With Money,Ӕ is an ensemble comedy starring Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener and Joan Cusack as three rich married women who fret and worry about their one pitiably broke friend (Jennifer Aniston, reprising her subdued performance in the indie hit The Good GirlӔ). Aniston plays Olivia, a perpetually stoned former high school teacher who has quit her job and now cleans houses for a living. When the women fret and sigh over Olivias aimlessness and miserable taste in men, theyҒre dissecting the marriage of whoever happens not to be in the room at the time, their concern part affection, part condescension.
The movie reads like a kinder, gentler Husbands and Wives,Ӕ and indeed Holofcener is frequently compared to Woody Allen. The two directors share a keen eye for their characters frailties and hypocrisies, but while AllenҒs protagonists start off lost and tend to stay there, starving on an emotional diet of imagined eggs, Holofcener likes to throw her characters a bone every now and then. In Friends With Money,Ӕ for example, even the raging and bitterly menopausal Jane (McDormand, at her acerbic best) gets a much needed love scene with her possibly gay husband. As for Olivia and what she gets, well, no need for spoilers.
On the evening we meet to talk about the new movie, Holofcener looks like she could be one of her own characters: slim, casually dressed, wearing a black blazer and blue jeansnot $600 designer blue jeans but honest to God Wranglersחand no makeup. Though she lives in Los Angeles, the only L.A. thing about her is her long, wavy dark hair. Highlighted, layered and shiny, its hair as weapon, or hair as prop Җ the kind of prop that a woman of a certain vanity will unconsciously toss, shake and flip back and forth. Holofcener is not that kind of woman. She neither preens nor poses, instead sitting attentively still, leaning in across the restaurants table and squinting a bit when thinking hard about a question. Until the arrival of her salmon (ғGrilled, please, all the way through, nothing seared about it), she keeps both hands clasped in front of her, brown eyes intent as she politely, cheerfully and with just a hint of impatience lets me know on several occasions that she thinks IԒm totally full of shit.
Sheerly Avni: What do you think of the term chick flickӔ?
Nicole Holofcener: Ugh, dont you hate that term? ItҒs derogatory, its stupid, itҒs so irritating.
On the other hand, I dont really care. IsnҒt life just too short to get all worked up about stuff like that? Maybe if I didnt get to make my movies, IҒd say, IӒm so sick of this goddamn chicklit shit, this is not a chick flick, its just a movie about a woman.Ҕ
And all that is true. But Im not that upset about being labeled anything, because I do get to make my movies. And if people are talking about my movies at all, then thatҒs good.
Would you see these films as feminist or political?
Gosh, to me it just seems like I֒m really self-involved. I write about what I go through, what my friends go through, what I find interesting, what movies I go see—isnt that sort of narcissistic?
Can you really be narcissistic and political at the same time?
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