When Nicole Holofcener wrote Walking and Talking, “Everyone passed on it.” As she wrote in an essay about the production, studios and independent companies dismissed her debut script as “soft” and “I thought that was bullshit, but at the same time I didn’t fight what they said was ‘soft’ about it—that there was no big hook and it was about women.” Six years after it was first written, Walking and Talking was pulled off with a reasonable million-dollar budget. The film premiered at Sundance and was well-received by critics, but its performance at the box office was overshadowed by Emma. Holofcener went on to make modestly budged films about women like Lovely & Amazing, Please Give and Enough Said that were “soft” but never trite or boring. She’s firmly established herself as an important female filmmaker, and it all started with Walking and Talking, one of the sweetest, funniest films of the ‘90s.

The drama is of the low-stakes variety. Laura (Anne Heche) gets engaged to a decent guy, and her best friend Amelia (Catherine Keener) is happy for her but worried too. Laura is officially moving on to the next phase of life, and Amelia feels stunted. She perceives herself to be incapable of dating: too weird; too neurotic; too worried about her fat, cancerous cat. While the women tend to personal, romantic frustrations, their friendship undergoes a test. Amelia feels like Ann doesn’t care about her anymore, and the central dilemma revolves around mending that breach. With its New York setting and emphasis on friendship, the film is a clear predecessor to “Sex and the City” and Bridesmaids, where work, friendship and independence collide in the lives of strong female characters.
If Walking and Talking is remembered as a primarily “woman’s” film, that’s a shame because the men are as noteworthy as the women. Liev Schreiber oozes charisma as Amelia’s porn addict friend, clumsily balancing a father with Alzheimer’s and a long-distance phone sex relationship. Kevin Corrigan is downright perfect as the vampirically pale video store clerk whom Amelia agrees to date out of pity. When he accidentally overhears a phone message in which Amelia calls him “the ugly guy,” he’s crushed. The damage is real, and it’s refreshing to see. Corrigan’s character is as “soft” as any woman.

Watching Walking and Talking 20 years later, one almost wonders why Nicole Holofcener wasn’t a playwright instead of a director. Her strength lies in her dialogue; those simple lines filled with sneaky humor, like when a handsome waiter flirtatiously points out that Laura bites her fingernails and she responds, “I bite my toenails too.” The line is so casual, you might even miss it. Heche is good, but the standout performance comes from Keener, that indie darling who’s created a mansion of fantastic supporting roles. Here, she’s shines as one of those perpetually single women in New York whose keen sense of self-awareness precludes her ability to buckle down and date like a normal person. As clichéd as that sounds, Keener pulls it off with the most adorable ‘90s bangs you’ve ever seen.

The film isn’t without some flaws. It opens on an unnecessary flashback to Laura and Amelia’s childhood that Holofcener later admitted she didn’t like. She’s still finding her footing as a director and sometimes, it shows. “Some things completely embarrass me,” she said about the film. “But I figure it’s sort of like remembering a guy you dated when you were young and stupid. That’s where you were at that point, and you’ve got to embrace it.”
For all the ways Walking and Talking’s depiction of relationships is timeless (dating is still impossible, friendships difficult), the film’s dependence on technology is pure ‘90s. The prevalence of landlines alone is fascinating. Corded phones are integral to the plot since Amelia and Laura constantly leave messages for one another. They talk on the phone during work and deliberately screen each other’s calls in times of tension. Even Schreiber’s phone sex relationship is obsolete.

The soundtrack is a treat. It’s got music from Billy Bragg, Yo La Tengo, Liz Phair and The Sea and Cake. In one great scene, Amelia and Laura are driving upstate with Laura’s fiancé. Music by the folksy, singer-songwriter Joan Osborne plays in the background, and Laura’s fiancé interrupts to ask, “Do we really have to listen to this vagina music all the way there?” Laura and Amelia respond in unison, “YES.”

The mid-‘90s fashion also merits appreciation. Heche wears denim overalls, Schreiber gets a pair of Sambas and Keener has an enviable collection of tees with horizontal stripes. This is normcore at its peak.

Looking back at Walking and Talking, Holofcener said she feels nothing but affection for her start as a director. “I still kind of can’t believe that I get to make these personal movies, and I hope I can keep doing it.” We hope so too. For all their alleged softness, the charms are durable, vagina music and all.

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