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The Sisters McMullen

Manuel Malle

How About 'Sleepless on Elm Street'?: Gore-loving video-store clerk Kevin Corrigan tries to bridge the chick-movie gap with Catherine Keener in "Walking and Talking."

At last, a chick movie that meets men halfway

By Richard von Busack

'THE SISTERS aren't doing it for themselves; they're doing it to themselves," Pauline Kael once sniped. The dreaded "chick movie" has earned its reputation for appalling syrupyness, and I refuse to believe that it's a missing chromosome in the viewer that makes something like Beaches or Sleepless in Seattle such a pain. After all, The Brothers McMullen--talky, suspicious of women and exalting male-bonding--was just a chick movie with a sex change. The new Walking and Talking, radiating the danger signals of the worst to come, actually won my heart with such gambits as an original soundtrack by the world's wittiest sensitive guy, Billy Bragg, and a plot in which a house cat's death is given as much due as if the beast were a human character.

The motto for the film could be Gore Vidal's quip "Every time one of my friends succeeds, something inside of me dies." The lean heroine, Amelia (Catherine Keener of Living in Oblivion), is a single girl facing the death of her beloved cat and the impending marriage of her best friend, Laura (Anne Heche). Amelia decides to set her sights a little lower--Bill (Kevin Corrigan), the geeky, gore-hound clerk at the video store, is starting to look good to her. Unfortunately, Laura gets cold feet about settling down and inadvertently sabotages Amelia's new affair.

Keener's uneven but engagingly neurotic Amelia lives in an ambiance of Manhattan low-budget neo-screwball, a la Woody Allen before he moved uptown. Walking and Talking is set at health-food emporiums, connoisseur video stores, the offices of alternative newspapers and small windowless apartments. Amelia wears no makeup and sports the anti-glamour of a wardrobe from used-clothing boutiques. The film won't be a success like The Truth About Cats and Dogs--there isn't a prince charming for Amelia to win except the horror-movie fiend who turns out to be good in the sack, and the cute-but-impossible Andrew (Liev Schreiber), with whom she used to be involved. Walking and Talking, however, offers something better than fantasy romance; it's unusually honest and weirdly fair.

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has a very sane view of the opposite sex, realizing (and this never happens in chick movies) that half of the problems we bring to an affair are our own. The men have their foolish traits, evincing fondness for phone sex and dwarf-bowling ("Watching dwarves bowl?" Amelia asks, uncomprehending). Although the film treats them as comic (God knows, we are a comic sex), they aren't stripped of their dignity. Holofcener has an offhand respect for the idea of different agendas, as well as a skepticism that marriage is the most desirable state for a woman. Open-mindedness is not a common thing in 1990s cinema, and it ought to be celebrated when it occurs. In Walking and Talking, romance is short, and friendship is long. When Amelia decides to accept a sleep-over friendship with a man, she says, "I'm not sure if I want this to go anywhere." I was so charmed by the movie that I didn't care if it went anywhere.

Walking and Talking (Unrated; 90 min.), directed and written by Nicole Holofcener, photographed by Michael Spiller, and starring Catherine Keener, Anne Heche and Kevin Corrigan.

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From the July 25-31, 1996 issue of Metro

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