Nicole Holofcener On Her New Film Please Give

The director mines her life for her films—and life is complicated

The oft-drawn comparison between Holofcener's comedies of free-floating ennui and early Woody Allen is apt. Her stepfather, Charles Joffe, was Allen's producer for a while, and her mother, Carol Joffe, was a set decorator on The Purple Rose of Cairo and Radio Days. But Holofcener is quick to deny that she got a leg up in the film business from hanging around Allen's sets in her youth or from the director himself. "Woody could relate to me when I was a kid," she says without rancor. "He'd come over to the house and tickle me and make jokes. But he's not a particularly warm and ingratiating person. When I grew up and worked as a production assistant on the set of A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, I'd say, 'Hi, Woody,' and he'd look at me as if he'd never met me. It was shocking and hurtful. So I can't say that I had an 'in' from seeing him work or learning from him. I was really, really influenced by his movies as a viewer. I loved Manhattan and Annie Hall."

She also loves Martin Scorsese, who was her teacher at Columbia and "fell asleep during my short film. It was horrifying, but he'd seen it about 30 times." It's less surprising than you might imagine that Goodfellas is one of Holofcener's favorite movies. There's an anarchic toughness to her writing, a refusal to build ideology into her films that appeals to men and women, but especially to women who are turned off or bored stiff by the current offering of chick flicks, from earth-mother indies to Sex and the City (several episodes of which Holofcener has directed).

The real Catherine Keener, Holofcener
Kevin Scanlon
The real Catherine Keener, Holofcener

Please Give opens with a mammary provocation and ends on a note of apparent consumer permissiveness that will likely send eyebrows skyward among the proper-parenting police. Look harder, and you'll see a moment of domestic repair, with two parents looking on fondly as their child tries on a pricey piece of apparel. "I look at my kids like that all day," says Holofcener. "I think they want to slap me."

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