Beyond its immediate commercial career, film looks to give a big leg up to its director as well as to its toplined players. Holofcener deals with emotionally traumatic material in the kind of flip, undisturbing way that Hollywood always has loved, and is very astute at injecting a disarming one-liner or turning a troubling situation on its head so that the overall tone remains breezy and fun.

Beyond its immediate commercial career, film looks to give a big leg up to its director as well as to its toplined players. Holofcener deals with emotionally traumatic material in the kind of flip, undisturbing way that Hollywood always has loved, and is very astute at injecting a disarming one-liner or turning a troubling situation on its head so that the overall tone remains breezy and fun.

Zippy script charts the worst of times in the relationship of best friends Amelia (Catherine Keener) and Laura (Anne Heche), young Manhattan professionals trying to set their lives on course. But placing them at odds is Laura’s upcoming marriage to Frank (Todd Field), which gives Laura much less time to counsel Amelia about her romantic woes.

Having broken up with Andrew (Liev Schreiber), who’s recently gotten into phone sex, Amelia reluctantly goes out with videostore geek and horror-film devotee Bill (Kevin Corrigan).

But when this liaison lasts only one night, Amelia becomes more insecure than ever, with her beloved cat’s newly discovered cancer exacerbating her desperation.

But soon it’s Laura’s turn to hit turbulence, as she begins expressing her nervousness about marriage by behaving increasingly neurotically and off-puttingly toward the affable Frank.

The two women finally have it out about the reasons their relationship has changed, and pleasing finale is unusually graceful and gentle.

Holofcener launches the narrative with a torrent of very brief, unconnected scenes, which initially creates a misleading impression that she is undertaking a boldly unconventional storytelling style.

As the film unfolds, the scenes begin expanding a bit, but they tend to remain unusually short, just long enough to make their pithy, often witty points and then move on.

Eventually, the impression is created of notes for good scenes full of pungent observations and sharp asides, but without fully developed drama or emotion, leaving a sketchy, wispy feeling when all is said and done.

Still, pic is loaded with delightfully fresh, disarmingly frank moments of its characters’ intimate lives; there will be plenty with which to identify for most young viewers.

Matters are helped enormously by the entirely winning performances of Keener and Heche, two young actresses who have been seen to favorable advantage before but haven’t had such an opportunity to fly until now.

Both characters go through moments of great embarrassment, silliness and turmoil, and the actresses ride the emotional roller coaster with vibrant and, at times, amusingly self-deprecating work.

The men are secondary but solid as well, with Corrigan’s sensitive film nerd provoking quite a few chuckles.

The clean images and subtly moving camera of Hal Hartley regular Michael Spiller give the film an accessible and appealing look, and other behind-the-scenes hands have conspired for a slickness rare in an indie production.

Walking and Talking

(Romantic comedy -- Color)

Production

A Zenith presentation in association with Channel Four Films, TEAM, Pandora, Mikado and Electric of a Good Machine/Zenith production. (International sales: Ciby Sales Ltd., London.) Produced by Ted Hope, James Schamus. Executive producers, Dorothy Berwin, Scott Meek. Directed, written by Nicole Holofcener.

Crew

Camera (DuArt color), Michael Spiller; editor, Alisa Lepselter; music, Billy Bragg; production design, Anne Stuhler; art direction, Roswell Hamrick; costume design, Edi Giguere; sound (Ultra-Stereo), David Powers; assistant director, Richard Greenberg; casting, Avy Kaufman. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 19, 1996. Running time: 83 min.

With

Amelia ... Catherine Keener Laura ... Anne Heche Frank ... Todd Field Andrew ... Liev Schreiber Bill ... Kevin Corrigan Peter ... Randall Batinkoff Amelia's therapist ... Joseph Siravo Laura's devil-seeing patient ... Vincent Pastore Andrew's Mom ... Lynn Cohen 'Walking and Talking" is a glibly observant comedy about the anxieties of romance and the evolution of a female friendship. Written and cut with an eye more toward jokes than on developing much emotional depth, writer-director Nicole Holofcener's first feature is boosted by uniformly droll lead performances as well as by impressively confident filmmaking savvy. Buoyant style and innumerable little insights about contempo lifestyles make for a perfectly engaging crowd-pleaser for young upscale audiences, although pic feels increasingly lightweight as it goes along. Young women, in particular, will respond enthusiastically, meaning that a creative distributor should be able to score some bright B.O. returns.

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