Instead of letting a promising relationship with a middle-aged man blossom naturally, she milks his ex-wife, who also happens to be a client, for information on his faults and foibles. Neither the boyfriend nor the ex-wife are aware of the overlap, which prompts moments of hilarity, but also tragedy.
In the hands of writer-director Holofcener, a premise that could have been an episode of “Two and a Half Men” instead becomes something complex and true to life. It’s a warm and witty film, one that TheWrap’s critic Alonso Duralde writes “burnishes [Holofcener’s] reputation as one of this generation’s great storytellers.”
The film is earning Holofcener, who has drawn attention for mining awkward moments of human comedy in films like “Walking and Talking” and “Lovely & Amazing,” some of the strongest reviews of her career.
It is also attracting a great deal of attention for containing one of the late James Gandolfini‘s final performances. It’s a fitting coda to a distinguished career that finds the “Sopranos” star cast against type as a gentle father looking for love.
In advance of the film’s debut on Friday, TheWrap spoke with Holofcener about the possibility of an Oscar for Gandolfini, the reason for the long lapses in her film resume and the state of indie movies.
TheWrap: Did events in your own life inspire the film?
Nicole Holofcener: No, thankfully my own life is not as screwed up or entertaining as the one in the film. But I was having thoughts about my ex-husband and my new boyfriend and thinking about being married and how I’m trying to have a relationship that’s happier the second time.
In the movie Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a divorcee who wants to dig up intelligence about her new boyfriend so she won’t be hurt again. Is that something that comes with middle-age or after a failed relationship?
If you’ve been married or divorced or you’ve have had relationship that didn’t work out, you’re more wary and more conscious of how difficult it is to look for the red flags in a new relationship.
When one is young and getting married, I shouldn’t say for the first time, you don’t really know how much crap everyone brings. Of course, you know the person you’re marrying has issues — everyone does. But what you look for later is for someone whose issues blend nicely or tolerably with your own issues.
See photos: James Gandolfini’s Most Memorable Roles
James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are an unlikely pair, but they seem so natural together on screen. What made you think that they’d have good chemistry?
I honestly didn’t know for sure if they would. I assumed they would. They’re both adorable. He’s big. She’s small. They both have a good sense of humor, they liked my movies and they understood my tone and the kind of movies I want to make.
Was their connection instantaneous when you started shooting or did it take them awhile to warm to each other?
It was pretty instantaneous. They had a mutual respect and a mutual shyness and intimidation of one another. They were nervous to be working with each other, but they found the prospect attractive and they were right for the roles.
Is it difficult to promote a film that contains one of James Gandolfini‘s last roles?
It’s horrible that he’s gone and it hurts to promote the movie without him. I wish he could be standing there when we screen the film at New York or Toronto with that smile and those eyes, so I could show him how wonderful he is in it.
This shows a side of him that he was anxious to show himself and that he wanted to explore. He accepted the part pretty quickly, and I think he did that because it made him nervous. That’s the kind of actor he was.
Did he ever see the finished film?
No. He was not anxious to see it. He saw a couple of scenes. One he liked and one he didn’t. He was an intense guy, who was always hardest on himself.
Eric Kohn wrote a lovely appreciation in IndieWire, arguing that James Gandolfini deserves an Oscar for his work in the film. Do you agree?
Sure, if there ever was a role that deserved an Oscar this is it. Both he and Julia are incredible in the movie. But competitions are silly to begin with, and I’m sure by saying this it will come back to bite me in the ass, but plenty of people have won Oscars for roles and it’s just been ridiculous. I think Jim, if he got a posthumous Oscar, he’d be up there laughing, because he had perspective about how ridiculous the whole awards thing is.
The premise of this film sounds like something from a sitcom, but that’s not the way the film plays. What kind of tone were you looking to achieve?
I guess I wanted it to be as honest and un-silly as possible. I wanted it to be awkward and funny and sad and realistic. I was aware it could be sitcom-y and stupid, and for the most part I tried to avoid anything that seemed like that. There was one scene of [Julia] hiding behind a bush that made me nervous that I’d gone too far, but it was so funny and character appropriate that I couldn’t resist it.
Julia’s character behaves abominably in the film and many of protagonists of your other films do terrible things, yet they remain likable. Do you ever worry that you’re going to lose your audience by making your characters too unlikable?
I worry about everything. But I put it out of my mind. I’m very conscious though when I’m casting a part like the one Julia plays, where she does such an awful, unkind, cruel thing. I knew that I wanted to cast someone whose side you would be on and who has this lovable quality. You see it an actor’s heart, in their faces, in their vibe. You know, I think she’s a wonderful actress, but I couldn’t have cast Tilda Swinton in this part. It would be a whole different thing. So it’s first about casting.
How has the indie film world changed since you made “Walking and Talking” in 1996? Do you think you could get a debut movie like that made today?
I think I arrived at exactly the right time. The 1990s were a good time for a first time director to make a feature, but it still took six years. I still had to convince people that I was the right person to do it and that my script was good. It was not easy then and I suspect it’s not easy now.
I’m not out there trying to raise money, so I’m a little naive in this department. I suspect it’s gotten better and worse in various ways. It’s better in that people can shoot movies and make them look really good for really very little money and there are more festivals for people to show their movies in.
At the same time, it’s gotten more star driven. No one is going to put $500,000 into a movie without a big movie star in it and it’s not like a big movie star is going to want to do many movies like that.
The one knock on you is that you don’t make many movies. You’ve only made five features in 17 years. What’s the reason for the delay between projects?
I’m not prolific, that’s all. It’s due to nothing specific. It’s me waiting to write until I find something that inspires me. For example, this movie is out, but I don’t have another script ready to go. It may take me a year or six months to get another script ready and then you have to cast it and raise the money and shoot it and before you know it three years have gone by.