When I saw Nicole Holofcener’s debut film, Walking and Talking, on a Thursday matinee in Cambridge, my best friend and I the only people the theater, I had no idea that I was staring into my future.
The film proved to be eerily prescient about my life. But I couldn’t know it at the time. I was 15 - things had barely begun. Boys were a concept and a source of bad poetry.
Films don’t usually dive into the ever-complicated, intricate, and intimate dynamics of friendship between women. (If they do, it’s often stories of Queen Bee toxic friendships, like Me Without You.) It’s not the most popular (or, generally, nuanced) topic; why write about best friends when you can write about a girl getting a man, and oh whoops, he’s a hit man? Or how men and women are from venus and mars and all that?
Deceptively simple, Walking and Talking centers around two friends, Amelia (Catherine Keener) and Laura (Anne Heche in her pre-Ellen, pre-Celestia ingenue years) who live young twentysomething lives in New York. Amelia has a vague newspaper-y job that involves classifieds, an ex that is always asking her for money (Liev Schrieber), whereas Laura has her Serious Relationship with fiancee Frank, the impending wedding, and her graduate work in psychology.
Amelia is unmoored, Laura is not. And that’s where the drama comes in.
Because if you’re the unmoored best friend, the undateable one, the one who’s floundering around on a life path through the brambles rather than walking down a straight clear line, then it’s very easy to relate to Keener’s character. She makes this sort of insecurity endearing; and it was always a shock to see her cast as a bitch in other, bigger movies, where she “broke through.”
There’s even a plot-line involving “the ugly guy” at the video store (and shame on you, internet, for killing the sort of retail places - video stores, record stores - where awkward crushes like this could exist. Shame on you!). Amelia’s lonely, renting videos all the time, and vulnerable - so she agrees to go on a date with the clerk that loves her and awkwardness ensues. Awkwardness that even involves lurking around the video store, hoping he’s there, and trying to apologize.
But all this dithering on Amelia’s part is due to one thing: she’s freaking out about her best friend’s marriage. She feels abandoned.
There’s a Young Adult book that I read, Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt [thx for the correction, Danielle!], that has a very applicable quote regarding this particular malaise. In short: there’s a young girl who’s an open wound since she lost her best friend, her sister, not to any tragedy, but to a husband and a baby. Her alcoholic uncle knows the sitch, and calls it like it is: a matter of numbers. Paraphrasing, it’s something like “You had a role in your sister’s life. You were probably the 3rd most important person in her life. But now there’s her husband, and now there’s the baby, and now you’re probably in 5th place."
And haven’t we all been there? When you’re a gang of two, and significant others come in the picture, it’s a painful process. You feel yourself getting knocked down in someone’s estimation. More importantly, it really isn’t you or anything you’ve done; it’s just that the relationship’s going to be different.
I always thought of myself as ungirlfriendable Amelia, lurking around Newbury Comics stores and chatting up record store guys, with my best friend as the serial monogamist Laura (they also, her and Heche, share a similar chic Grace Kelly air), but as time marches on, the roles have shifted back and forth. Even if she is a doctor - who got married before 25 - and I am a writer. My date for her wedding was a guy that I met on the DC subway the month before.
The roots of our friendship are still there, late night phone calls, sleepovers, and adventures, even if the face of it is different these days.
When it comes to friendship, there are secrets that people don’t tell you. That friendship can be delicate; that friendship can be ephemeral; that there are phases to friendship that wax and wane like the moon. And despite all that, there are sharp, funny, and neurotic soulmates out there that you will value your whole life long.
I learned that from Walking and Talking. I saw a vision of women’s friendships that echoed my own. Caitlin and I were and are Laura and Amelia, and it’s a comfort to see those worries and trials onscreen.
And I will always go to Nicole Holofcener’s films in the theater, from the good (Lovely and Amazing, Please Give?) to the ideas in search of a film (the fascinatingly flawed Friends with Money). And she’s my number one pick for a director that should be making a small Woody Allen-ish film a year.
But perhaps the most important takeaway from Walking and Talking is this - there are some life long friends who let you play "vagina music” for the whole duration of a roadtrip. And those friends? May be the most important, the most necessary people that you’ll ever have in your life.