With the speed and apparent carelessness of an improvisational cook, "Girlfriends" tosses about the different ingredients - some sweet and some bitter - that go into friendship. It seems impossible that the mixture will rise, but in fact it turns out to be both appealing and nourishing.
A grant-sponsored film, "Girlfriends" is the first full-length feature by documentary and "Sesame Street" filmmaker Claudia Weill, with a mostly female production staff. Using a naturalistically awkward and disjointed style, it shows the fleeting pleasures and disappointments of friendships in the life of a young Jewish freelance photographer in New York.
Susan Weinblatt is played by Melanie Mayron with such charming vulnerability that she manages to make Susan recognizable as a realistic modern young woman, while also evoking for her the sort of indulgent forgiveness associated with nostalgia.
One cannot label any of Susan's difficulties as a single working woman with simple, Cosmopolitan magazine precision. Loneliness doesn't quite fit. When her roommate leaves to get married, she finds another, whom she likes and finds amusing, and then needs to have the apartment to herself. It's not that she is unfulfilled in her work. She supports herself marginally by photographing weddings and bar mitzvahs, and then has what she considers artisitic successes, in placing magazine pictures and finally in having her own gallery show.Nor is she gripped by competitiveness. As soon as she gets her own show, she helps a colleague get one, too. And it's not that she needs a man. She finds one immediately, and goes off by herself again in the middle of the night when he wants her to stay.
And finally, it is not that she is in bad shape. This is not a film of neurotic desperation, although there are tears and outbursts and depressions. Even her contrasting ex-roommate (played by Anita Skinner), who is supposed to be having a poorer time of it after choosing marriage and motherhood, has her radiant moments with husband and baby.
What Susan has is a faulty but genuine capacity for friendship, and her joys, as well as her pains, come from matching these with people who have the same imperfect generosity. Her New york world is not fearful and hostile, but sympathetic if haphazard.
One of the most touching episodes is her attempted romance with a middle-aged, married, homely rabbi, her working colleague at other people's ceremonies. The skillful Eli Wallach shows him to be a warm and modest soul who has come to love Susan who pushes turning it into a love affair, and Susan who - having rejected her handsome young party pickup - shyly tells her friend how attractive he is.
The affair is stillborn - the flicker of his face that shows the rabbi's realization that a chance appearance of his family's means that he must give it up is superlative acting - and the young man turns out to be satisfactory, after all. Another fine moment is when the rabbi attends Susan's gallery opening, their faces both glow at the reunion, and then he spots her boy friend, again immediately understands and accepts, and departs.
But the point is that it is emotional rapport that attracts her, not the statusy externals, and that in her relationships with men, with women, and with working colleagues, it is friendship she is seeking, however stumblingly.
GIRLFRIENDS - Outer Circle 1.