Girlfriends is the one of only two theatrically released films from director Claudia Weill, with It’s My Turn being the other. She kept herself busy doing TV and theatre work, and eventually directing on and off the screen at various prestigious American universities. This film, however, remains her most popular work, and has become incredibly influential on a whole new generation of filmmakers.
Melanie Mayron plays 20-something photographer Susan Weinblatt, who shoots the usual baby pictures, weddings, and bar mitzvahs to pay the rent but dreams of getting a solo exhibition in New York, where see lives. It’s a very simple film, with the big conflict occurring when her best friend Anne Munroe (Anita Skinner) moves out to live with her boyfriend. It’s mainly made up of vignettes that show the various relationships and struggles involving Susan and the two girlfriends of the title, including jealousy over their various circumstances.
It very much fits into the gap between Annie Hall and the recent mumblecore movement films, especially Lena Dunham’s work, but to be blunt, the film didn’t do too much for me. Weill started the project as a short and then gradually expanded it, and it shows. It’s too episodic, with a really unsatisfying conclusion. The performances are fine: Mayron went on to a successful TV career, although Skinner only did one more film, the horror flick Sole Survivor (1984). The supporting cast of men is some ways more interesting. A pre-Spinal Tap Christopher Guest plays Susan’s douchebag boyfriend Eric, who got the role because he didn’t play it as the romantic love interest; Eli Wallach(!) is the older Rabbi who she has a short fling with; and the always reliable Bob Balaban appears as Anne’s boyfriend Martin.
Stanley Kubrick was a great admirer of the film, so what do I know. If you are into the mumblecore stuff, Woody Allen, or one of my least favourite directors, Éric Rohmer, you will probably dig the film. I would rather just watch Stranger Than Paradise or Frances Ha again, which did this milieu better for me.
The disc is rammed with interviews, mainly with Weill, but there is also a Zoom discussion with Melanie Mayron, Christopher Guest and Bob Balaban. Two of Weill’s short documentaries are included, and the booklet includes essays from film critic Molly Haskell and feminist communication scholar Carol Gilligan.