Type “great auteur directors” into Google and you’ll find in their generated box of photos and names a grand total of ZERO female directors. For those unfamiliar, the auteur theory is the notion that the director is the primary voice for a film. Their exceptional artistic sensibilities are readily apparent in their woks and they develop a heralded canon. While there are many female directors to consider under this term, I feel one underrated figure worth recognizing is Nicole Holofcener.
Far removed from the flashiness of auteurs such as David Lynch or Martin Scorsese, Holofcener likes to think small. Aside from directing TV show episodes Gilmore Girls, Sex and the City and Orange is the New Black, Holofcener hosts an impressive filmography bound by tales of simple and ordinary circumstances. The typical manipulative narration of Hollywood is rarely seen. As she noted in her interview with the DGA, “My style of filmmaking is about not wanting big moments to be the resolutions of things.” Such as in Please Give where instead of opting for a saccharine reunion of dueling sisters with the music swelling as they lovingly embrace, she chose the small gesture of putting her head on her sister’s shoulder. “The resolution between characters or the closure or just the arc is smaller than what I see in most movies.” Above all, she enjoys directing scenes “about people and…humanity and what it’s like to be alive,” in other words, an actor’s dream to work with.
Most importantly, Holofcener brings women-centered narratives to the table. These seemingly low-stake stories deal with incredibly acute realities for women of all ages. (I do acknowledge, however, that they are primarily white women’s experiences, with the exception of a few WOC in Lovely and Amazing) Holofcener tenderly explores how women relate to their world, friends and themselves. These are women on the verge of living their life as society deems they should or as truly want to live. Like Scorsese to DiCaprio, Holofcener also has her own muse in Catherine Keener, who has been in every one of her films.
Her feature debut, Walking and Talking, features what I consider to be one of film’s most realistic portrayals of female friendship. Catherine Keener’s character, Amelia, is unhappy with her best friend’s new marriage. While many stereotypical features would center Amelia’s unhappiness on her own single status or dislike of her friend’s partner, Amelia reveals that she is worried Laura will not have time for her any longer. Many women in their 20s can relate to such a predicament, as they watch friends and acquaintances get engaged and move on with their lives, left to wonder if there is any room left for them in the new equation or when it will finally be their turn. Her acidic comedy Lovely and Amazing zeroes in on women’s self-esteem and body image issues in a society obsessed with looks. A 60-year old mother gets liposuction and Emily Mortimer plays a struggling actress. In a scathing scene critiquing Hollywood’s portrayal of women, she asks her lover to provide a candid critique of her bodily flaws as she stands naked in front of him.
In Friends with Money, Jennifer Anniston’s character wrestles is a pothead and maid surrounded by wealthy friends that live in mansions like the ones she cleans for. She questions whether she should be striving for more in life. Please Give also focuses on female characters but widens the scope to explore the universal ideals of narcissism and materialism. Perhaps her most well-known and more “conventional” works is one of James Gandolfini’s last films, also starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said. In this comedy of Shakespearean coincidences, a recent divorcee discovers that she is dating her new friend’s ex-husband. Enough Said is a charming and bittersweet romantic comedy. The awkward fumbling of courtship are given a pragmatic treatment from Holofcener despite the film’s genre, which is often prone to sitcom-like pratfalls and hijinks.
Nicole Holofcener deftly explores the humble and real stories of humans, particularly female ones, who navigate the quiet uncertainties of life. Her stories are not prone to soap opera-like plot twists and grandiose melodrama. Her stories unfold as graceful and organic as life, gently flowing from one moment to the next. Many laud Holofcener as the “female Woody Allen” (which is term that can open a whole other discussion) yet they fail to include her on any sort of auteur list. Holofcener and Allen do share some similarities in their slice of life comedies and dramas. However, Holofcener has the added bonus of actually crafting genuine female characters. Then why do we ignore her? She may not be as flashy as others on these lists such as Wes Anderson or Von Trier. Holofcener prides herself on her low-key camerawork. Holofcener has a strong body of work. Her canon has established her artistic goals for humanistic everyday stories laced in wry humor. We crave these kind of compelling female-centric narratives and we should honor the great artist, such as Nicole Holofcener, behind them.
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 70s/80s era Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are her faves. She blogs even more about her film obsession at cinematicvisions.wordpress.com.