Talk Ain't Cheap
A few years ago, in a magazine profile Frances McDormand said that the current slick cinematic style of Hollywood movies—narrative through action, quick scenes all in service of the story—made it difficult to tell women’s stories properly. Women talked to each other, their stories, she argued were driven by talk. (Sadly, I can’t find the article anywhere, so you’ll have to trust me that it exists. Or maybe I dreamed it up. Either way the point that Frances—or the Frances in my head—made stuck with me) From then on I often viewed movies through the lens of that remark and realized that most films—even purported chick flicks—gave women no space to talk.
Nicole Holofcener is a notable exception to this rule. Her films, Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing and now Friends with Money, let women talk. She takes issues that would have been tangential in other films—Catherine Keener’s Amelia freaking out because her best friend is getting married in Walking and Talking or Jennifer Aniston’s Olivia in Friends with Money letting her quasi-boyfriend (Scott Caan) take part of her meager housekeeping salary because she has little sense of herself and lets men walk all over her or, in the same film, the resentments between friends that can come from economic disparity—and brings them to the forefront, makes them the subject matter. In her films, the most intimate, revelatory moments often come from conversation. In Lovely and Amazing we learn that Keener’s character, Michelle, a lost soul, constantly talks about her grueling experience in childbirth because it is the only concrete accomplishment she feels she has made. In Friends with Money McDormand’s Jane tells her husband that she has stopped washing her hair and become a borderline rageaholic because, at her age, she no longer believes that life can surprise her. Intimate, freshly observed moments like these can only come from a filmmaker who knows the power of talk.
Holfocener the writer-director is to slick, Hollywood filmmakers what the singer-songwriter is to the rock star. Instead of flashy technique and overwhelming production values, she operates on a smaller, more intimate scale. Like Bob Dylan, whose songs are musically simple, but lyrically rich, Holofcener employs a basic visual style, which brings the focus to her richest creations—her characters and their talk.