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'Walking,' but Going Nowhere

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 26, 1996

Walking and Talking" exemplifies what's wrong with so many modern "women's" films. Though there are exceptions, such as "Thelma and Louise," in most of these movies the heroines are too busy reflecting to participate in anything more active than quilting. The only suspense: When are they going to put down their thimbles and get on with their lives?

Even seamstresses look active compared with the angst-prone blabbermouths of "Walking and Talking," which really should have been called "Moaning and Phoning." Writer-director Nicole Holofcener's earnest first feature is a low-budget comedy drawn from the pages of her own dear diary. Most women have sense enough to burn theirs.

A collage of phone calls, coffee klatches, pillow talk and psychobabble, the story tackles a common female complaint: Girlfriends tend to neglect girlfriends when a boyfriend enters the picture. In this cautionary tale, the neurotic Amelia (Catherine Keener) is wounded when Laura (Anne Heche), her gorgeous best friend since sixth grade, becomes engaged to Frank (Todd Field).

The two lovebirds, still in the all-het-up stage, let the answering machine deal with Amelia's persistent, plaintive phone calls. Bereft of emotional support, Amelia turns to Andrew (Liev Schreiber), a former lover now caught up a long-distance phone-sex affair.

In the meantime Laura, a therapist, begins to question her love for Frank when she has an erotic fantasy about an attractive patient. The quirks that first drew her to Frank -- such as calling waitresses by their first names -- become major irritants. And that cute mole on his shoulder seems to be spreading like some kind of space fungus. Now that she needs a confidante, Laura seeks out Amelia.

The relationship is clearly lopsided, but the director appears to celebrate it. Laura, as portrayed by the radiant Heche, is a bright, controlling beauty who allows herself to be adored by both her friend and her fiance. She acknowledges Amelia's peeves, it's true, but with practiced ease she soon turns the conversation back to her own troubles.

Amelia, the needy, twitchy type, is something of a pest; on the other hand, she does give far more than she takes. Besides, Amelia is the filmmaker's alter ego, and Holofcener has every right to portray herself as the martyr. It is her movie.

But under the circumstances, a little whining goes a long way. A friendly reminder to Ms. Holofcener: They don't call them motion pictures for nothing.

Walking and Talking is rated R for language, sensuality and drug use.

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