On Nicole Holofcener’s Relatable Female Characters: 52 Weeks Of Directors

by Lauren C. Byrd

Enough Said

“It’s hard to pin down what is so great about Holofcener’s work,” said a review of Enough Said in The New Yorker.

It’s true. Like Nora Ephron before her and perhaps Lynn Shelton after her, Holofcener’s five films are easy to watch and put you into a world you may not necessarily know but somehow feels familiar. Holofcener makes her female characters not likable, exactly, but relatable. They are nice enough people but we also recognize and relate to their flaws. As The New Yorker review went on to say, “her films are smaller; they situate you deep in your seat rather than on the edge; they’re about jealousy, but not the kind that ruins friendships; hurt feelings that don’t stay hurt; divorces that are probably for the best; husbands who cheat on their wives just once but regret it deeply.”

Holofcener’s films are low stakes and she prefers it that way. She doesn’t believe that most people’s lives are very exciting and in their low-key worlds — although they may live in New York or Los Angeles — she brings believability and realism to our screens.

A native New Yorker, Holofcener’s mother was a set decorator and her father was a Broadway lyricist. She attended NYU and then received an MFA in directing from Columbia. She thought she wanted to be a screenwriter but explains that during film school, she took everything, meaning writing, directing, and acting. “Directing my script was so much fun. I liked being in control of my work. I feel like directing utilized all the good parts of me. I got a lot of positive feedback, so I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this!’”

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After graduating from Columbia, Holfocener wrote the script for Walking and Talking. She partnered with producer Ted Hope to get it made, but after years of trying, Hope suggested she make a short film as a sort of selling point for her feature. Hope financed the short, “Angry,” himself. “It still took six years to make Walking and Talking. It was attached to different studios, it had different casts, different configurations. But Ted was very determined. He helped me hang in there,” Holofcener said in a DGA Magazine interview.

When asked whether she thought her gender was a factor in how long it took to get her first feature made, Holofcener said maybe. “I think the subject matter of the film and my gender are tied together. I’m a woman and the film is about two women. If I was a guy and it was about two guys, maybe it would have taken five years.”

Walking and Talking (1996), Holofcener’s first feature, is available on Netflix to watch. It’s about two best friends, Amelia (Catherine Keener) and Laura (Anne Heche), and how their friendship changes once Laura gets engaged to her live in boyfriend, Frank (Todd Field.) Amelia is dealing with her cat’s illness, goes out on a couple dates with a guy who works at her local video store, and maintains a friendship with her ex-boyfriend, Andrew (Liev Schrieber). Once Laura and Frank get engaged, however, things start to unravel. Laura is no longer sure she wants to be a therapist, she’s fighting with Frank more, and she flirts with a guy who works at the local coffee shop.

The film certainly isn’t Bridesmaids but perhaps a quieter, more subtle version, that shows how a friendship can evolve as the two individuals in it change.

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Catherine Keener has been in all of Holofcener’s films since then — Lovely and Amazing (2001), Friends with Money (2006), Please Give (2010), and Enough Said (2013). Holofcener says they met through a mutual friend and Keener’s agents gave her the script to do Walking and Talking. Keener was there through the six years of ups and downs with the film, doing various readings and auditions for different film companies and with different actors and actresses. “She’s always been an incredible support to me and was a believer from the beginning,” Holofcener said.

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In between films, Holofcener has been rather prolific in directing television. Her first experience was on Sex and the City and she’s directed episodes of Gilmore Girls, Six Feet Under, Enlightened, Parks and Recreation, Togetherness, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

She says when she got on board at Sex and the City, the budget was shocking. “I couldn’t believe all the toys and the cranes and things I could play with. [Directing TV] is a good excuse to stop suffering over writing,” she said.

Holofcener certainly isn’t afraid to speak about her gender in relation to her chosen profession. “Overall I think the business is down right sexist and racist. The world is sexist and racist—why should the movie business be any different? I do think I get offered a lot less good stuff. But I don’t blame it on my gender. I just blame it on the fact that what I do is idiosyncratic.”

To follow Holofcener’s model, it seems the key would be to keep creating and directing your own stuff, the projects you are passionate about, no matter what the industry or the market might be into at the time. It’s certainly been a tactic that has worked for her for the past twenty years.

This post originally appeared on laurencbyrd.wordpress.com.

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