Nicole Holofcener

[FILMMAKER]

“I JUST DIDN’T WANT TO BE SAYING THAT RICH PEOPLE CAN’T BE HAPPY, BECAUSE THAT’S SUCH A CLICHÉ. I KIND OF WANTED TO PAINT THEM AS PERFECT. I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE FUNNY—AND CRUEL.”
Socioeconomic status tip-offs:
Reaction to the purchase of a $400 dress
Canopy bed
Marital bliss
Guilt

To understand just how Nicole Holofcener’s films burrow straight into the heart of a certain kind of existential malaise, you need only watch a scene from 2001’s Lovely and Amazing. Here, Catherine Keener plays Michelle Marks, a woman whose self-dissatisfaction practically emanates from her pores. Her artistic efforts have lately gone to the crafting of odd-looking miniature chairs made from twigs. During a humiliating attempt to convince an upscale boutique to carry the chairs, Michelle runs into a former high school classmate who is now a doctor.

“A doctor, already?” Michelle says. “It just seems so… soon.”

“We’re thirty-six,” says the other woman.

“Yeah,” says Michelle. “But not thirty-six thirty-six.”

The state of being thirty-six but not thirty-six is prime Holofcener territory. It’s an idea she explores, consciously or not, in just about every frame of every movie she makes. This is true even if her characters are in their twenties, as was the case in 1996’s Walking and Talking, or if they’ve aged into the bona fide, fortysomething bourgeois we meet in her newest film, Friends with Money. The road to being a grown-up—or, more accurately, to feeling like a grown-up—is the main artery in Holofcener’s work, the thoroughfare from which dozens of other issues (body image, race, class, the reticence of men, the emotional insatiability of women) branch off in every direction.

But Holofcener does not make coming-of-age movies, nor does she fall back on pop psychology clichés, no matter how often her characters might benefit from a “What Color Is Your Parachute?” seminar. Instead, Holofcener, the daughter of an artist father and a mother who once worked as a set decorator, and the stepdaughter of Charles Joffe, who produced many Woody Allen films, is a genuine auteur. She writes, she directs, and, like Allen himself, she brings a surprising (and distinctly grown-up) glamour to urban neuroticism.

This interview took place in February over tea and pork chops at Holofcener’s home near Los Angeles.

—Meghan Daum

*

THE BELIEVER: Do you think there’s something going on in the culture that has changed the way men and women relate to each other romantically?

NICOLE HOLOFCENER: I am so out of the dating loop, thank god, that I can’t play anthropologist or sociologist about that. But there’s definitely an issue about money in terms of men and women. So many more women are making more money than their husbands. Or if they’re not, they will be soon, and their husbands are afraid of that. Maybe they don’t say it, but they are. That’s an interesting phenomenon. I think that emasculates a lot of men and makes them feel paralyzed and makes women feel guilty and afraid to reach their full potential. I think men are certainly more lost in terms of how to behave.

BLVR: Why do you think women are making more money?

NH: I think women in relationships are more willing to accept a man who doesn’t make money. There are a lot of men who are aspiring to something. They haven’t made their money yet. And meanwhile the women are making more.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Meghan Daum is a columnist at the Los Angeles Times and the author of the essay collection My Misspent Youth and the novel The Quality of Life Report. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, GQ, and Vogue, among other publications. She lives in Los Angeles.

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