Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Film Class: Nicole Holofcener

Last Thursday my sister watched my daughter so that my husband and I could go see the new Nicole Holofcener film, Please Give. After watching the trailer we had considered seeing the film for our anniversary last month, but decided against it because it was only playing in Winston-Salem and I preferred to stay in Greensboro. This week I though I would write about Holofcener both to recommend seeing the film in theater, projected on film of course, and to introduce a filmmaker that you may not be familiar.
Holofcener is a writer/director whom often makes films revolving around females and the issues facing them. She is does this in a very honest manner without overtly glamorizing women akin to Sex and the City type fare.

Interestingly, Catherine Keener has played a major role in all four of Holofcener’s feature length films. It makes one wonder if the characters Keener plays are surrogates for Holofcener. When a director writes characters that are similar to themselves I often refer to them as the director’s Antoinel Doinel. Doinel is the main character in a series of films by Francois Truffaut that begins with the 400 Blows, which is a semi-autobiographical film about Truffaut’s childhood. As the series progresses and Doinel ages the character becomes more of an amalgamation of the Jean-Pierre Leaud (the actor portraying Doinel) and Truffaut himself. Of course Truffaut is not the only one to have done this nor the first, but it is very successful pairing that extended over many films. Now, I don’t know for sure that Holofcener uses herself as the blueprint for Keener’s characters, but it is something I have always wondered. Though Keener’s characters are not carbon copies of each other they all have a similar make up involving a somewhat neurotic and needy nature.

Today I have had a hard time sitting down at the computer to a write this post and am now in the eleventh hour. All day I have been trying to think about why Holofcener is a relevant director. It is not often that films portray women in the central roles in a film and it is even rarer that films with lead female characters are not romantic comedies (where the women are usually portrayed as searching for or needing a man in their lives).  Holofcener is one of the rare directors making films about women without relying on stereotypes or using female characters to sell designer shoes. She does this by creating very personal films that are far from the normal high concept big budget Hollywood fare. She allows the women to have real flaws and dimension.

Upon leaving the theater I thought Please Give was good, but not as well executed as some of Holofcener’s other films, but now I am not sure, the more I think about the film the more I appreciate it. That’s the thing with her films there is never a pat, easy ending, nothing is force fed. The character’s were all incredibly well written. My husband really loves the grandmother and thought she was a particular stand out. I agree with him, but I was also impressed with Amanda Peet, she plays a bitch very well.

I show Holofcener’s Lovely and Amazing in my Women and Film class and students are often very divided on the film. Often they want a concrete conclusion and feel as though the film just ends. This semester, due to some films being misplaced during a move to a new building, I showed the film much earlier than normal. At first the film had some of the same complaints, but as the semester moved along it became the film that everyone referenced and compared subsequent films.

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