Monday, April 20, 2009

Girlfriends (Let's Do the Time Warp Again)

Nashville Film Festival ~ Day Four
A sizeable dilemma arrived last night, the kind film festivals enjoy torturing cinephiles with as two coveted films ran in the same time slot. Do I see the lost 70s movie Girlfriends (1978) or the new film from the terrific young Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke, Lake Tahoe? I've been raving about Eimbcke to anyone who would listen since fall 2004 when I saw his debut Duck Season in Toronto. It opened in the States, finally, two years later [2006 top ten list]. If I have to wait until 2011 to see Lake Tahoe I may expire of anticipatitis and regret my decision but I went with Girlfriends. Here's why: Girlfriends has only been on VHS once (many aeons ago) and copies are hard to track down, no DVD release ever materialized and none is planned and I love movies about women.

Girlfriends is about a young Jewish photographer Susan Weinblatt (BAFTA nominated Melanie Mayron, of thirtysomething fame) whose best friend and roommate Anne, a WASPy blonde (Golden Globe nominated Anita Skinner), gets married and leaves her behind in the city. The rest of the film merely observes the independent minded Susan as she struggles to come into her own as an artist and navigate casual friendships and romances in Manhattan as a determinedly single girl. Though the movie is definitely of its women's liberation time (Looking for Mr. Goodbar and An Unmarried Woman preceeded it into theaters though it was filmed concurrently) it's not "dated" so much as a resonant time capsule. Its naturalism is refreshing. They don't make movies like this anymore though I suppose some TV shows still traffic in the miniature nuances of daily human drama. The budget limitations show but they also add to the movie's inventiveness. The crucial wedding sequence that sets off the direction for the movie (more of a jumping ground for character arcs than a plot) is covered with only still photos and then a very smart visual transition where Susan repaints her apartment, both of which sum up the life changes and emotional gear-switching in sharp succinct detail. Mayron is an engaging funny lead and the ensemble is strong: Famed character actor Eli Wallach is effective as a rabbi and Bob Balaban and Christopher Guest are the principal love interests for the girls. The latter casting was a little strange to see. From our 2009 film culture we don't tend to think of either of these admired screen talents in terms of romance or even in Guest's case in terms of naturalistic acting. A-

Melanie Mayron and Christopher Guest lose their clothes and fall into romance (without cohabitation) in Girlfriends. Photo Source --- >

Though Girlfriends didn't receive any Oscar attention in 1978, it was a critical pet and an influential film: It won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival, garnered minor Golden Globe and BAFTA attention and played at Cannes. Cast and crew fared well: the '78 film led to a studio gig for the director Claudia Weill (It's My Turn with Jill Clayburgh) and she was invited to join AMPAS a couple of years afterwards (one of the first few female directors ever invited), first time production designer Patricia von Brandenstein (who also did the iconic costumes for Saturday Night Fever during Girlfriends long stop and start production) went on to much larger success as an Oscar regular, Mayron's EMMY winning character on thirtysomething was actually based on her role in this film. What's more, the film's core issues are still relevant and still being discussed today in modern femme-centric work like Sex & the City (albeit in a completely different stylistic and more confused political mode).

Girlfriends even had Stanley Kubrick as a vocal fan. Stanley Kubrick! So what happened? It's a real shame and even a little bit of a mystery that it's disappeared so thoroughly. Perhaps Warner Bros will one day make it available since they've recently begun to open their vault.


Andrew K. said...

Now I'm jealous that
I can't see that movie. Is it weird that I use to LOVE thirtysomething when I was younger - although it was off the air then, and I was looking at the reruns...
PS. Love the picture of Leo on in The Departed on the main page.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, FilmMovement is releasing Lake Tahoe on DVD. It is already available to subscribers and will be available on in November. So you won't have to wait two years again, just about 7 months...

Alex F said...

I recently came across this title somewhere, and I (now) realize that I mistakenly thought this was some sort of arty, risque, 70s indie movie about lesbians. I guess the title+ Melanie Mayron = lesbians in my head. Now I feel kind of dumb.

WEHT Melanie anyway? Yeah she won an Emmy, but I wonder why she wasn't able to nab more interesting film roles after thirtysomething. A quick glance at her imdb page, and I see she's doing guest roles on Lipstick Jungle and Naked Brothers Band! That hurts me.

Thanks for the review.

Catherine said...

This review has made me pine to see this film.

Wayne B. said...

Catherine - know what you mean.

Its too bad they didnt release it last year on DVD(30 years and all).
Maybe Criterion could pick it up?

Flosh said...

Can't speak about Girlfriends, but I saw Lake Tahoe during Film Comment Selects and loved it just as much as Duck Season. I wish someone would give it a theatrical run, too, but I'll settle for the DVD.

mustardgirl said...

I loved the film in 1978
Melonie was great Have tried to find it on DVD BUT no luck. The Film was `a classic story, especially for young jewish woman in NYC.
Eli Wallach played the `rabbi-one of his best roles.

ordet said...