Nicole Holofcener on 'Please Give'

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The writer-director on inspiration, fantasy casting and why she doesn't like the term 'chick flick'

Writer and director Nicole Holofcener had the idea for her new film ‘Please Give’ when a friend in New York bought the flat next door to her own from its elderly owner. But before the friend could knock through, she had to wait for the woman to die. In ‘Please GiveCatherine Keener is in the same predicament. Consumed with well-heeled guilt – about this and everything else – she takes up volunteering. Another smart, talky film from 50-year-old Holofcener, it’s a welcome relief after the disaster in Louboutins of ‘Sex and the City 2’.

You borrow bits and pieces from the lives of family and friends in your films. Do they hide secrets from you now?
‘No!’

But what do they think about seeing themselves on screen?
‘I think they are often flattered and crushed at the same time, depending on what I’m writing. They know I do this and I have written about some of them in very personal ways. So far no one has been upset, at least not that they’ve told me.’

Apart from the elderly neighbour, is anything else in ‘Please Give’ based on real life?
‘I’m definitely making cracks at my own inability to successfully volunteer. I’ve had some bad experiences. I burst into tears while singing Christmas carols with a mentally ill choir. It was horrible. I should never have gone there in the first place. That was the worst.’

There are always a few queasily recognisable scenes in your films. In ‘Friends with Money’ it was after the dinner party, when the couples drive away, each analysing everyone else’s relationships. It’s close to the mark.
‘I love to write that stuff, and it’s not mean spirited. Even if you love everybody, wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could figure out what they’re saying about you? Or not!’

Catherine Keener has appeared in all your films. What do you like about her?
‘Her vulnerability, her sense of humour. She’s so intelligent and I think she makes me better. And I think her face is so amazing to watch – I never tire of looking at what it does.’

She says that you are always relaxed on set. Is that true?
‘I am relaxed, I just am. Even when I’m anxious people think I look relaxed. I get angry and frustrated, but I never yell, I don’t mistreat anybody. I never forget that in the end it’s just a movie.’

There is a lot of talk about how few women are directing films. Do you think there is as big a problem with the lack of women writers?
‘I’m lucky that I like to write. If I were waiting for material to direct, it would be even worse. Because, yes, female characters are terribly written and infrequently written as leads. It’s still a really sexist business – and racist. So yeah, we’re making strides, but still there’s a long way to go.’

You say female characters are terribly written. Do you mean in the sense of women whose raison d’être is to go out and get themselves a man?
‘I don’t mind a movie about getting a guy, because there have been times when I’ve just wanted to get a guy. It just has to be done truthfully. Hollywood movies can be great. But if you’re going to say this is how women talk to each other, it should be truthful. Even women directors do these over-the-top glossy characters I don’t want to watch.’

In your fantasy film which actresses would you direct?
‘I’d love to work with Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett. I’m kind of obsessed with this comedian Kristen Wiig. She’s on “Saturday Night Live” and is just hilarious. She’s probably going to be big and famous one day – I hope through me! They’re some of the people I’ve tried to get in my movies in the past.’

Do you get annoyed when your films are called chick flicks?
‘Mildly annoyed. It’s so silly and sexist and limits my audience. It’s annoying, but at the same time, I get to make them, so how much can I complain? I guess if I had no career because I made “chick flicks”, then I’d be mad.’

Read our review of ‘Please Give

Author: Interview: Cath Clarke



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