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?
Next Page: “I think that we are judgmental by nature. We all think we know whats going on with other people…. We can say, like in the movie, ‘Oh, that womanҒs husband is gay’ but will we look at our own marriage?”
Was this movie also based on your own life?
Ive always been a person who wanted to break the money taboo. If I told people what I made, I would see the looks on their faces. The discomfort—ғOh are we going there? Are we going to have to talk about that? Am I going to have to divulge what I make? IԒm so sick of this privacy thing about salaries, even though my girlfriends talk about every detail of our lives, down to well, God knows. Everything.
Like Frances McDormand֒s character, talking to her husband about her friends bad marriage: ғDo you know shes never even seen his asshole?Ҕ
Yes, we can confess our deepest secrets, the most private things in our lives, and when we are asked what do you get paid for that, we freeze up.
I just dont want to feel ashamed of what IҒm making, whether its too little or too much. If itҒs too little, youre being degraded, and people say ғhey you should be making more. If itԒs too much, youre ғinflated and itԒs obscene what youre making, and you feel ashamed.
But I feel like money should be a part of my intimate conversations with people that I know well. ItҒs money it֒s a huge part of everybodys lives.
There is a book out right now called ғMoney, a Memoir, by Liz Perle, which talks about exactly this. How for women, money is still a taboo subject, and this keeps them from figuring out how to manage their money well.
As I reach this age it becomes even more talked about—and not talked about. Can you pay for private school, do you choose to pay for private school, blah blah blah. I have a friend who wonԒt pay for private school, but she will spend a helluva lot of money on clothes. [Sneers a bit for dramatic effect.] Shell spend that much money on clothes, but not on education?
Who are we to judge how other people spend their money? But we do it anyway. We love to judge.
Right, and Olivia [AnistonҒs character] is in the position where her friends all feel sorry for her. Shes a bit younger than they are, her life is unsettled. We hear over and over from the other women what a head case she is, and how worried they are, but my sense was that they were jealous of her too.
Well, the othersҒ lives are set in some ways. Children, houses. Olivia still has freedom.
You feel that way?
Sure. Unlike the other women, she still has a lot more choices than they do.
I dont feel that way. I feel like they wouldnҒt trade everything to be in Olivias shoes.
Think. For a woman to be 35, or 36, and have no money, and no boyfriend, and all your past boyfriends are louts ҅ your friends are going to be worried about you! I mean, you know her eggs are diminishing.
[Editors note: Our interviewer, who meets all these criteria—and then some—got thrown off by the phrase ғdiminishing eggs and missed the next few sentences.]
On the other hand, though, I think they are also judgmental, and I think that we are judgmental by nature. We all think we know whatԒs going on with other peopleWe can say, like in the movie, œOh, that womans husband is gayҔ but will we look at our own marriage?
The happiest couple in the movie is also the richest. Not very PC.
No, right? I guess I just think that life is about luck. This rich couple happens to have the most money. And they also happen to love each other the most. Thats just the way it is. ItҒs just kind of fucked oops, can I say that for your publication?
Good. Well then yes, it֒s fucked. I think money does help. I dont think it can help a bad relationship. But it makes a good relationship better, more able to enjoy their lives together, without financial stress.
So theyҒre just lucky in a way that Anistons character doesnҒt seem to be, at least at first.
Theres always that theory that when youҒre single youӒre not ready, you just dont love yourself enough yet.Ҕ Sure, all that hokey-pokey stuff, that airy fairy stuff, might be true. But at the same time, I believe that a lot of things in life are luck and fate, and that theres less poetry to it than we all want to think.
You say your movies come from your own life. Have you had friendships fall apart because of income disparity, because money got in the way?
ThereҒs a huge disparity, but its nothing we canҒt deal with. We all talk about our goddamn feelings so much that if anyone has a feeling it gets spread around.
You also directed several episodes of Sex and the CityӔ—from the first season, when it was still good. But it wasnt particularly realistic.
ItҒs not realistic. Well, no, in its heart it was, the fact that because these women were so incredibly important to each other, that felt real to me. Even though I personally could never dress like that or look like that or talk like that.
Did you really believe that those women could have been friends, as different as they were?
Well, OK, not Samantha [the slutty publicist] or Charlotte [the waspy art dealer], but as a foursome, yes, they held together; they had an energy.
Youre one of the only directors I can think of who makes movies that really explore womenҒs friendships.
Friendship is such a huge part of your life, and it can be really dramatic. When I did Walking and Talking,Ӕ people kept insisting that the two women in the story were gay. And I kept saying that this has nothing to do with being gay. This is female friendship, and female friendship is loaded.
Your films always center around how women relate to each other. Will your next film do so as well?
Im not working on another film. I just donҒt have any ideas yet. Seriously, they come slowly!
I cant blame it on being a woman or saying that I canҒt get a movie made I just haven֒t liked anything Ive written enough to want to make it. And I do other things in between, writing jobs, directing TV shows. And I raise my kids.
[She shrugs, smiles.] You know how time goes by.
Sony Pictures Classics
Nicole Holofcener on the set of her new movie, “Friends With Money,” with actors Frances McDormand, right, and Greg Germann.