Nicole Holofcener has a New York, Jewish sensibility that infuses all her films with a kind of humanity and wit that makes them stand out on the indie film landscape, as do their smart, quirky heroines.
So it’s wonderful that the Jerusalem Cinematheque is featuring a tribute to her movies, August 25-31. Only Holofcener’s 1996 directorial debut, Walking and Talking, is not included in the series.
Holofcener, who also directs series for television and writes screenplays, recently released her first feature film in 10 years, You Hurt My Feelings, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Louis-Dreyfus is best known for Seinfeld and Veep, but she is also terrific on the big screen, and her partnership with Holofcener is a cinematic match made in heaven.
What are the hits of Nicole Holofcener, the premier indie filmmaker?
In You Hurt My Feelings, Louis-Dreyfus plays an insecure Brooklyn novelist who is married to a therapist (Tobias Menzies, who plays Prince Philip on The Crown). The therapist worries that he isn’t helping his patients. The story revolves around what happens to their relationship when she overhears his honest opinion of her new book.
I felt that at moments the screenplay brought to mind the phrase “chilled white whine,” but overall, it was enjoyable and well worth seeing if you missed it in theaters earlier.
Louis-Dreyfus also starred in Holofcener’s previous film, Enough Said. In that film, set in California, she plays Eva, a divorced massage therapist, who wonders how she’ll manage when her daughter goes off to college. Things look up when she starts dating a teddy bear of a man, played by James Gandolfini. The twist is that, by chance, his ex-wife (Catherine Keener, who has appeared in most of Holofcener’s movies) is one of her clients. As Eva hears the ex-wife complain, she is tempted by the idea of having a kind of “Trip Advisor” rating of the man she is starting to love, although she knows it’s crazy, and she begins to devalue him.
Gandolfini was best known as Tony on The Sopranos, and this movie, which was released around the time he died, shows what an incredible romantic lead and comic actor he was. He was so good in Enough Said that, as I watched it, after the first five minutes I completely forget about Tony Soprano, even though I was a huge fan of the series.
The breakout hit that made Holofcener one of America’s hottest indie directors, Lovely & Amazing (2001), is also part of the series.
The title is ironic, as the titles of her movies often are, because it’s about four very imperfect women – a mother and her three daughters – who struggle to embody the adjectives in the title.
As the story opens, June (Brenda Blethyn), the mother, is about to have liposuction and fantasizes her doctor is going to ask her out.
Michelle (Catherine Keener) takes a job at a one-hour photo shop when her husband gets frustrated at her devotion to creating art that is never going to sell, and is delighted when her teen co-worker (Jake Gyllenhaal) develops an intense crush on her.
Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer, in one of her best performances) is an insecure actress, who, in a scene that audiences tend to remember most vividly from the movie, masochistically asks her boyfriend to give his honest opinion of her body and its flaws.
Annie (Raven Goodwin), June’s adopted daughter, is black and struggles with looking different from the rest of the family, and, encouraged by June, is already watching her weight.
The cast works beautifully as an ensemble, and you may leave the theater loving these women more than they are able to love themselves.
In Please Give, Holofcener’s 2010 movie, she manages to find a new take on a very New York kind of real-estate story.
Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) earn a good living in New York by buying up the contents of the homes of elderly people who have just died and selling the furniture their children disdained at a huge mark-up to yuppies.
They long to buy the apartment next to theirs and make it all into one big apartment, but there’s a catch: A mean old lady (Ann Guilbert) lives there with her two granddaughters (Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet) and they have to wait until she dies to buy it.
While dreaming of the day she can knock down the walls, Kate feels guilty and invites her three neighbors to dinner, a meal that turns into a fiasco on many levels, but an entertaining one. Sarah Steele (who plays Marissa Gold on The Good Wife and The Good Fight) plays the couple’s wise-beyond-her-years daughter.
Friends with Money (2006) probably reached the largest audience of any of the director’s films, due mainly to the casting of Jennifer Aniston of Friends as Olivia, a single woman who is bright but can’t seem to get her life on track and works as a maid. She has three friends, played by Keener, Frances McDormand, and Joan Cusack, all of whom have much more money than she, which creates tensions among them.
In spite of the great cast, this one works the least well of all of her films because somehow the characters don’t seem like real people so much as contrasting types pushed together to create drama.
It has its moments though and features some very witty writing, as all of Holofcener’s films do.