Catherine Keener and Liev Schreiber, in 'Walking and Talking'

Dir. Nicole Holofcener
(1996, R, 85 min)
★ ★ ★ ½

I love, love, love Nicole Holofcener. She’s such a natural, assured filmmaker, on a short list of my favorite directors currently working. Having seen the last three of her four feature films — most recently this year’s superb Please Give — I decided to seek out her first: 1996’s Walking and Talking, which is very much of a piece with her three subsequent films, and that’s alright by me. She generates compassion and develops clear but complex characters and relationships with effortless grace.

As always, she’s less interested in plot than in the everyday rhythms of her characters’ lives. Catherine Keener, who has starred in all of her films, plays Amelia, an editor who has been best friends with Laura (Anne Heche) for most of their lives, but they begin to drift apart when Laura gets engaged to her longtime boyfriend Frank (Todd Field, who would go on to write and direct In the Bedroom and Little Children). While Laura struggles with the conflicts and compromises of impending marriage, Amelia navigates New York City single life.

There are no cliches in the film. Amelia is friends with an ex-boyfriend played by Liev Schreiber, and there is lingering affection between them, but it doesn’t develop in obvious ways. Amelia dates a video store clerk (Kevin Corrigan) who she doesn’t particularly like, until he rejects her for a reason made clear to the audience but which is a mystery to her. Both are allowed to be full and interesting characters, to hurt and be hurt, without either spilling into caricature.

The pieces don’t all connect, but somehow that doesn’t bother me. We see some of Laura’s training to be a psychologist; one client sees visions of the devil, and there’s another she’s attracted to. Amelia has a 14-year-old cat diagnosed with cancer. Such details don’t advance the narrative, but they add texture to the characters, whose lives aren’t about any one thing but the sum total of all the things they do and care about. That all those things are interesting doesn’t come as a surprise. Holofcener has never told an uninteresting story about uninteresting people.