There’s a certain strand of filmmaking that I like to think of as ‘low stakes cinema’ where nothing really bad happens or is likely to happen to any of the characters — no one’s actions are going to kill or seriously hurt anyone, and there might be a bit of embarrassment or hurt feelings, or even a relationship break-up at the very worst. Much of Nicole Holofcener’s cinema sort of fits neatly in there, and the lives she depicts are just a little more ragged around the edges than, say, Nancy Meyers’s (certainly their homes are less punishingly set designed). Both of these films deal with ensemble casts, groups of people defined by relationships, whether romantic or those of friendship, navigating through complications, without the kind of pat resolution you get with, say, sitcoms. In this way they fit somewhat into the same mould that younger ‘mumblecore’ filmmakers were doing at the same time, though her filmmaking seems closer to the kind of comfortable New York background of Noah Baumbach, something which traces its lineage back through Woody Allen. Between these two films below she made Please Give (2010, which I’ve seen and liked, though wasn’t able to rouse myself to write much about it) and Enough Said (2013), which is just lovely, and I think one of the last screen performances from James Gandolfini.
Friends with Money (2006)
All of the characters in this film have their moments and their frustrations: Jennifer Aniston is the one without the money who just passively takes on the aggressions of men around her (including a truly awful exploitative love interest in Scott Caan), while the others all have more money but are less happy in different ways. But nothing really bad happens, and all of them just move through their lives, with a few humorous incidents and some fine acting at times. It’s not the greatest example of the genre or even of Holofcener’s filmography, but sometimes you just need something gentler.
Director/Writer Nicole Holofcener; Cinematographer Terry Stacey; Starring Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, Jason Isaacs; Length 88 minutes.
Seen at home (Netflix streaming), London, Wednesday 11 April 2018.
The Land of Steady Habits (2018)
I do like Nicole Holofcener’s cinema of middle-class malaise, much though it’s strange to watch one lacking the acting talents of Catherine Keener. Ben Mendelsohn’s central character is a frustrating man, to be sure — in many ways he’s quite the insensitive dick, but then again the film is clear about this, avoiding giving him too much of a break. Even if it feels like he’s sleepwalking through life, from one screw-up to another (often involving his and his friends’ children), there’s a sense of an arc in his character, a gradual self-realisation, conveyed through subtle and expressive means, in quiet moments between characters. There’s not a great deal of flashiness, but plenty of heart.
Director/Writer Nicole Holofcener; Cinematographer Alar Kivilo; Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco, Thomas Mann, Connie Britton, Bill Camp; Length 98 minutes.
Seen at home (Netflix streaming), London, Saturday 20 October 2018.