Hidden Netflix Gems – Walking and Talking

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down. 

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener has been compared to the legendary Woody Allen because of her strong command of character and dialogue, not to mention the fact that her films tend to revolve around brainy people having trouble with their relationships, both romantic and familial. The comparison is apt and certainly not without foundation – Holofcener is the stepdaughter of Allen’s late producer Charles H. Joffe, and she found her first film industry work on Allen films such as Hannah and Her Sisters, on which she was an apprentice editor. However, despite their shared propensity for talky comedic dramas about New Yorkers who are sometimes a bit too smart for their own good, Holofcener’s films display a sensibility that is uniquely hers, as channeled through her favorite actor, Catherine Keener, who has appeared in all four of her films thus far.

Holofcener’s debut feature, Walking and Talking, takes a warm and insightful look at the mixed feelings of Amelia (Keener), a woman in her mid-30s whose longtime best friend, Laura (Anne Heche), is getting married. The news sends Amelia into a sort of “biological clock” crisis in which she confronts her conflicting desires to settle down and find happiness the way other women her age seem to be doing, while still wanting the relative freedom and ease of a single life. As she attempts to navigate this difficulty, she receives advice and moral support from Laura, her fiancée, Frank (Todd Field), and Amelia’s former lover and good friend, Andrew (Liev Schreiber), as well as a therapist (Joseph Siravo). Though she has been ambivalent at best about the prospect up until now, she finally decides to begin dating Bill (Kevin Corrigan), a video store clerk who has been flirting with her for some time now.

Walking and Talking is at its best in its portrayal of this courtship, with Amelia gradually realizing that the man who she has previously considered to be beneath her (she calls him “The Ugly Guy” when speaking of him to Laura and others) just might be a much better match for her than she thought, and in its portrayal of the friendship between Amelia and Andrew. It’s so rare in life to maintain a close, caring friendship with a former lover, but it does happen and, in my experience, it happens very much the way it is shown here. Their scenes together are especially warm and funny, but above all it is the dynamic between Amelia and Bill that makes this film rise above the average comedy. Far from being simply a geek or loser, as Amelia originally sees him, Bill is much smarter, funnier and deeper than she (or we, the audience) first assume; in fact, Amelia comes to realize that he just might be too good for her. Like Bill, Walking and Talking is much more than the sum of its parts, and well worth a look.

  

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Interview with Please Give Writer-Director Nicole Holofcener

After studying film at Columbia University, writer-director Nicole Holofcener made her first feature, Walking and Talking, in 1996, and she has been going strong ever since, directing feature films such as Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money and Please Give, as well as working in television, for acclaimed series such as Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Bored to Death and Parks and Recreation. I had a chance to speak briefly with Holofcener on the occasion of Columbia’s panel on women filmmakers.

Ezra Stead: There is a striking realism and intimacy to your films, going back to the first one, Walking and Talking, and I know a lot of material is taken from your own life or that of your friends. Is your apparent muse, Catherine Keener, generally playing the Nicole Holofcener alter-ego, or is your own personality spread out more among all your characters?

Nicole Holofcener: I guess I could say she has been my muse, but in a couple of movies she has not played the “me” character. She certainly does play me well, and all the characters, I suppose, are a part of me, and even if that character she’s playing is based on someone else, there’s still pieces of me. She has been a muse, definitely.

ES: I read somewhere, in another interview with you, where you said your friends say, “Don’t say that around Nicole, it’ll be in a movie.”

NH: I know, just one friend in particular; she’s very nervous [laughs]. If somebody has shame, I suppose they don’t want to be revealed. Most people’s shame is not very interesting or theatrical, so don’t worry I’m not gonna write about it. Whatever you’re doing that you’re embarrassed about, I don’t care [laughs].

ES: So in general, your films are fairly autobiographical, or was Walking and Talking more that way?

NH: No, they all are. I mean, none of them are real, none of them come from things that really happened; I suppose there are moments that really happened and lines that really happened, but most of it is made up but, I would say, based on me and my experiences, and my friends.

ES: What future projects are you working on now, if you can tell us?

NH: I’d love to tell you. I’m so glad I have that, thank god, it’s so hard when there isn’t one. Yeah, I’m in pre-pre-production for a movie that I wrote that Fox Searchlight has been making, and I start shooting in August, I think. I hope.

ES: Untitled, so far?

NH: It is. Not fun. I’m not good at titling things. The only title I really like, that seems correct, is Friends with Money, and that’s what I wrote when I first started writing it, you know, this is gonna be about “friends with money,” it was easy. This one has Julia Louis-Dreyfus in it, and James Gandolfini, so I’m happy to publicize my next movie.

ES: I also read that you were involved at one point in directing the Seth Rogen / Joseph Gordon-Levitt film 50/50. Is that you’re still interested in pursuing – directing features written by other people?

NH: I’m still gonna direct 50/50 [laughs]. It’s something I am very interested in, and I’m sad that I didn’t get to direct it, but it was family stuff, and that’s okay, it turned out well. I liked the movie.

ES: But you are interested in directing someone else’s script?

NH: Yes, if I fall in love with it. I really want to, have to, fall in love with it. Yes, please send me things. Send me good things [laughs].

ES: You’ve directed a lot of TV as well. What are some of the differences in TV vs. feature film directing?

NH: There’s not much difference. The television shows that I’ve worked on have all been single camera. It feels like I’m working on a little film. It differs from show to show. A show like Enlightened, I feel like I’m working on a movie; a show like Parks and Recreation, I’m at a party. I mean, it’s different. I guess, to some extent, working on a television show is easier because it’s not my problem, in the end – I didn’t write it, I didn’t create it – and for the same reason, it makes me more anxious because I have someone else that I wanna please, besides myself, and I really only work on shows that I respect and am proud to have my name on, so I really do wanna please the writer, and the creator. Other than that, they’re pretty similar.

ES: So you think that, when and if you end up directing someone else’s script, it’ll be similar to that?

NH: I hope so, yeah. I hope that I have that relationship where I turn to the writer and say, “You happy with that? Is that how you saw it?” That’s a real collaboration.

  

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