In her gingery, aptly titled "Walking and Talking," writer-director Nicole Holofcener, making her feature debut, deftly reveals those moments of unintended hurt and unexpected vulnerability that seem an inevitable component of our closest relationships.
Inspired by personal experience, Holofcener deals specifically with the impact upon a young woman of her closest friend's announcement of marriage. From this point of departure Holofcener creates a wry, contemporary comedy from a prickly period of transition in a longtime friendship, resulting in growth and self-discovery on the part of two smart, capable New Yorkers nearing 30.
When Laura (Anne Heche), who is a blond, tousle-haired therapist, informs Amelia (Catherine Keener), an editor of some sort, that she's marrying her live-in boyfriend Frank (Todd Field), Amelia is taken aback. She's just told herself she has adjusted to being friends with her ex-lover Andrew (Liev Schreiber); now she's suddenly feeling very alone and that time is running out. Not helping matters is that she learns that the beloved cat that she's had from the time she and Laura shared an apartment may be dying. But she does find herself falling for a nerdy video store clerk (Kevin Corrigan, very funny yet surprisingly commanding).
If, on the one hand, Amelia begins to feel desperate, Laura is not without her own insecurities. Engaged she may be, but that doesn't stop her from fantasizing about other men--or from telling Frank she'd appreciate a little variety in their sex life. Amelia and Laura are both at a point where they need to sort out their emotions and priorities but now they'll be proceeding down their own paths, making it more of a challenge for each to be as supportive of the other as in the past.
To her credit, Holofcener resists trying to make Amelia and Laura adorable. They're both edgy, blunt women, often tactless; attractive but not beauties. Their vulnerability and forthrightness, their struggles to straighten out their lives and their capacity to cause and experience pain in the process, make them seem very real. It's a downright refreshing experience to be presented with people you can identify with, recognize yourself in them, without being asked to like them.
While Laura is about to enter marriage with her eyes determinedly wide open--and she does seem to love the boorish Frank even if we sometimes wonder why--Amelia is pondering Andrew's remark that she drove him away because she made him feel like he was "too important" to her.
Although "Walking and Talking," which has a rich, vital Billy Bragg score, is a romantic comedy with stellar portrayals, it often could scarcely be less romantic. When Frank, while urinating, hands Laura her diaphragm case in which she will discover an engagement ring, we're made to realize how far we are from the Lubitsch Touch.
* MPAA rating: R, for sexuality, language and brief drug use. Times guidelines: The film has adult situations and themes throughout that are too mature for youngsters.
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'Walking and Talking'
Catherine Keener: Amelia
Anne Heche: Laura
Liev Schreiber: Andrew
Todd Field: Frank
Kevin Corrigan: Bill
A Miramax Films presentation in association with Channel Four Films, TEAM, Pandora, Mikado and Electric of a Good Machine/Zenith production. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener. Producers Ted Hope, James Schamus. Executive producers Dorothy Berwin, Scott Meek. Cinematographer Michael Spiller. Editor Alisa Lipselter. Costumes Edi Giguere. Music Billy Bragg. Production designer Anne Stuhler. Art director Roswell Hamrick. Set dresser Michael Kucmeroski. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.
* At the NuWilshire, 1314 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 394-8099; Cineplex Beverly Center, La Cienega Boulevard at Beverly Boulevard, (310) 652-7760; and South Coast Village 3, South Coast Plaza, (714) 540-0594.