Female Slant

'Walking and Talking' Is A Friendly Little Film About Relationships.
By Stacey Richter

THE TITLE OF this movie--Walking and Talking--is absolutely inexplicable, as is the allegedly catchy one-line synopsis of what it's all about: A movie for everyone who wants to get married and stay single at the same time. What on earth could this mean? I've seen the movie and I have no idea, but if you can get past this first line of audience repellent, it turns out that the inappropriately named Walking and Talking is a friendly, modest little film about relationships, love and growing up.

Cinema The film begins with two little girls, stretched out on a bed, reading The Joy of Sex and commenting on how completely disgusting this document is. We have a feeling, though, that these girls aren't going to be disgusted for long, and the next scene finds Amelia (Catherine Keener) and Laura (Anne Heche) all grown-up and avidly interested in that particular side of human behavior. Laura is in love with her live-in boyfriend Frank (Todd Field), an ex-pothead who spends most of his time just being a great boyfriend, while Amelia is single and lookin' for love. When Frank and Laura get engaged, she dreads telling Amelia, who's smart and pretty but neurotic. For Amelia, relationships don't always go so well.

Walking and Talking meanders through the world of boy-girl love like a later-day Woody Allen comedy with a female slant and particularly low-key jokes. The characters are anxious and self-involved; they move through an upbeat, benign version of New York City, rehashing their problems and bumping into interesting people. Amelia becomes involved with an especially colorful video-store clerk, a nerdy sci-fi fellow who squires her off to a monster movie convention. One of the nice things about this movie is its generous spirit, and instead of making fun of the video clerk, he turns out to be a warm, centered kind of guy whom Amelia likes more than she thought she would.

While Amelia is out dating, Laura is beset with a severe case of cold feet. She freaks out at her boyfriend for having a mole on his chest, then sort of dates another guy. The central focus of this movie, though, isn't so much these women's relationship with men as it is their friendship with each other; like Manny and Lo and Gas, Food, Lodging, Walking and Talking seems to belong to a recent group of films about the depth and meaning of friendships and connections between women. All of these films were developed with assistance from the Sundance Institute; all are small, independent films that eschew the big plot movements of Hollywood films in favor of subtle moments of love and communion.

It's interesting to compare these "new" female-centered movies with earlier examples of what were called women's films--'40s movies about self-sacrificing heroines intended for a mostly female, matinee audience, like the Joan Crawford classic Mildred Pierce. The best of these films were engrossing in part because they nurtured dark, resentful feelings towards marriage and motherhood which, in those days, couldn't be expressed directly. Mildred Pierce slaves on behalf of her child, and the ungrateful kid ends up seducing her husband! But in the new breed of women's films, the ambivalence about relationships, sex and motherhood has come out into the open. Laura, in fact, is a therapist-in-training who is especially forthright about her feelings--especially about what marriage would mean to her friendship with Amelia.

A film like Walking and Talking of course lacks the resonance and gritty darkness of the '40s versions, but on the up side, the female characters are no longer tragic, and friendship between women has become a positive force, rather than evil and corrosive. In fact, Walking and Talking is quite funny; Catherine Keener would be a perfect Woody Allen heroine; intelligent but self-effacing, with a knack for getting involved with the crazies of New York. She's also so good that it's hard to focus on the other actors in the movie; the friend I saw the movie with was so taken by her engrossing, naturalistic performance that he developed a scheme for a Catherine Keener TV channel, where you could tune in at any time and just watch Catherine Keener react to things: Catherine Keener squeezes a melon; Catherine Keener looks at a cat, etc. While we're waiting for that to get into development, the movie version makes a pretty good stop-gap.

Walking and Talking opens Friday, November 29, at The Loft (795-7777) cinema. TW

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