Film: Don't mention Annie Hall

Nicole Holofcener could bear being hailed as the next Woody Allen if her hero were dead. As it is, she's worried it might just make him want to vomit. Liese Spencer meets the self-deprecating director of 'Walking and Talking'

She's not balding and she doesn't play the clarinet, but if the American press is to be believed Nicole Holofcener is the new Woody Allen. The first-time director gained her new moniker with the release of the angst-ridden Walking and Talking, a quick-witted romantic comedy about Amelia, a single woman who falls apart when her best friend gets engaged: a kind of Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Female Friendship, But Were Afraid To Ask.

A "self-deprecating Jewish girl", Holofcener sees the Allen comparison as inevitable, but embarrassing. "He's my idol, so it's flattering. But I just picture Woody reading those reviews and wanting to vomit. I wouldn't mind so much if he was dead, but how can you have 'the next Woody Allen' when the old one's still around?" Appalled by how shamelessly other directors "rip off" Allen's films, Holofcener pulled herself up short if she caught herself doing anything "remotely Annie Hall-ish".

It's easy to see, though, what the US critics mean: the film boasts a cast of walking, talking (forever talking) personality disorders who inhabit a landscape of cramped but comfortable apartments, video stores and coffee shops, and pepper their conversations with off-the-peg psychoanalysis. "That language is not Allen's invention," Holofcener protests. "He's just a New Yorker. That's what all New Yorkers are like. It's not his invention. It's a fact." And then the Allen-esque punchline: "Everyone I know is in therapy, or has been, or should be."

A lot of Walking and Talking is about being single in the big city. "When I began the script in 1990, I was turning 30," she says, "and I panicked. My best friend was getting married and I was single and terrified I'd never find a mate." It was the same year that the novelist Douglas Coupland was busy defining late-developers like Holofcener as "Generation X", and studios were cashing in with movies like Reality Bites and Singles. Walking and Talking has superficial similarities to those films. For one thing, it describes a group of twentysomethings who, in Holofcener's own words, "are growing up later, marrying later, maturing a bit too slowly". But her ambitions led her in another direction.

"My film is a lot less slick, a lot more emotional. Those movies were trying to say something about a generation and I'm not. I wanted my characters to look like me and my friends, to wear T-shirts not sexy-girl outfits. I've seen Reality Bites, twice," she says, warming to her subject, "and I can tell you what Winona Ryder was wearing in a number of scenes! I shouldn't be able to do that. It's too fashionable."

This didn't cut much ice with the producers, who took one look at Holofcener's list of hand-picked nobodies, and demanded she replace them with "names" - including Winona Ryder. "I knew the movie wouldn't be as sappy as it sounds, but potential backers kept telling me it was too soft. It took six years to get it made. It's harder to get to make a film as a woman, especially if you want to make a mushy movie like I wanted to. It was like, 'If you're going to do it, then make it a tough movie about tough girls.' I kept being told I needed more edge, whatever that is. I'd be like, 'There's a cancerous cat that falls out of the window. Will that do?'"

That cat was, in fact, two cats - her best friend's and a boyfriend's - which is typical of the way Holofcener put incidents from her own life in the film (could the writers of Reality Bites say the same?). Not that everything was directly autobiographical. The press notes for Walking and Talking claim it was lifted wholesale from the director's own diary, "which is bullshit", she says. "I had a bad review in the Washington Post from some woman who'd obviously read that. She wrote: 'Apparently, Nicole Holofcener took this movie from her dear diaries. Most women have enough sense to burn theirs.'"

There's an aggrieved tone in her voice as she recounts this because, she explains, she tore her hair out ensuring that the film wasn't "sappy". Her main concern was what she calls "the needy lead".

"Because Amelia was based on me, she had the tendency to be whiny. People would read the script and say, 'I want to slap this girl. Who cares? Get a life and leave your friend alone. Go find your own boyfriend.'" With an awareness that Woody Allen, king of the needy leads, might do well to cultivate, she solved the problem by casting in the role Catherine Keener, the sympathetically vulnerable star of Living in Oblivion. And with a nepotistic flourish that Allen might enjoy, apportioned minor roles to her dad (senile father) and her husband (tank-top nerd).

Anyone who's still in any doubt about going to see a mushy female-bonding movie may be pleasantly surprised that Holofcener's hard-won naturalism doesn't exclude a scatological sense of humour. "A lot of my friends read the script and said, 'Nicole, you have way too many bodily fluids here.' But I relish that stuff. I was so pleased with the fart joke when she's trying on the wedding dress. I mean, it's so girly. She looks like a meringue, let her cut one!"n

'Walking and Talking' opens tomorrow. For Steven Poole's review, see page 5

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all