Robert Redford and Paul Newman, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, Clint Eastwood and that orang-utan... buddy movies are traditionally a single-sex sport, dealing in bloody male bonding, so it's refreshing to see a film like Walking and Talking every once in a while, which details the more subdued rituals of female friendship. As its title suggests, Nicole Holofcener's smart directorial debut is more Friends than Lethal Weapon, a romantic comedy with a sweetly neurotic humour all its own.

After directing Super 8s at college, Holofcener's career began as a production assistant. She was soon frustrated. "I wasn't a good PA," she admits cheerfully. "It was too degrading, I don't think my ego could take it." Undaunted, she continued to churn out scripts until her parents released her from cinematic serfdom by stumping up her fees for film school. The move paid off. As a postgraduate at Columbia University, Holofcener gained an agent and made Angry, a five-minute calling- card which won acclaim at the 1992 Sundance Festival.

Her first feature, Walking and Talking, is a semi-autobiographical portrait of the perils of singledom. "My own disastrous relationships are up there on screen for your entertainment," laughs Holofcener, now happily married (her husband has a cameo as an extra in a bad play) "but not all of them, thank God. I saved some moments to use in future movies."

Setting aside such escapist fantasies as the feminist Thelma and Louise, Holofcener seems to have got things right when she shows that even women living in violent New York spend more time thinking about relationships than worrying which gun will fit best in the glove compartment. But despite her sharp script, Holofcener's low-action, girl- centred plot took six years to finance, as the director fought against glamour-hungry backers, keen to turn her naturalistic piece into something more like Singles. "I knew it wouldn't be as sappy," she sighs, "but the financiers kept telling me it was too `soft'. They wanted their angst more hip."

Luckily, Holofcener persevered, and while her characters may not carry the firearms of male friendship or speak for a generation, they do have a rare authenticity.

Liese Spencer