- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

‘Friends With Money” isn’t just writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s latest attempt at dissecting complicated women characters.

It’s “the new Jennifer Aniston movie,” the unassuming director says.

And that means the stakes are higher than any the indie film director previously faced.

Miss Holofcener’s first two films, “Walking and Talking” and “Lovely & Amazing,” earned warm reviews, but the general public barely nodded its collective head in the direction of the films.

Those films cost next to nothing by conventional standards, and they’re best known for helping bring Catherine Keener to the public’s attention.

“Friends With Money” will be different.

“I feel like it’s reaching such a broad audience,” she says of the film, which began the buzz-building process during this year’s Sundance Film Festival

That’s what ex-“Friends” are for.

“Jennifer Aniston’s acting ability and her marketability played a role” in landing the part, Miss Holofcener says during a swing through the District to promote the film.

“It’s a mixed bag,” she says. “The other actors get short shrift … but that’s not Jennifer’s fault.”

The 46-year-old director split her formative years between New York and Santa Monica, Calif. Her family’s creative connections — her stepfather is film producer Charles Joffe — landed her minor jobs on the set of two Woody Allen films. It didn’t hurt that her father worked as a stage actor and her mother served as a set decorator, but Miss Holofcener sought a more official education. She earned agraduate degree in film from Columbia University before launching her own directing career.

“Friends With Money” follows four longtime friends coming to grips with their wildly different income levels.

The role of Olivia, a stoner-slacker whose best friends are all married and financially thriving, was meant for a fortysomething actress. Miss Holofcener bent her own rules a bit to allow for Miss Aniston, who had asked Miss Holofcener if she might include her in a movie.

It’s hard to get rich, or look glamorous, in one of Miss Holofcener’s films.

In “Amazing,” actress Emily Mortimer played a woman who asked her boyfriend to critique her naked body without pulling punches.

“I have actors who are willing to not wear makeup, not wear sexy clothes,” says Miss Holofcener, herself dressed down in sneakers and casual wear. “There are lot of other actors I can imagine who would not be up to that.”

The writer-director cemented her penchant for telling women-centric stories with directorial turns on both HBO’s “Sex and the City” and the WB’s “Gilmore Girls.”

For “City,” Miss Holofcener’s modest sensibilities often clashed with the show’s style standards.

“I kept saying things like, ‘I don’t think she’d wear those shoes,’ or ‘She’s unemployed — why is she wearing that outfit?’ They’d say, ‘Shut up,’” she recalls with a laugh.

The show’s success wasn’t lost on her, although she doesn’t think it was all about the Manolo Blahniks.

“People loved the clothes, but I thought the soul of the show was very true, the pain the women felt being single,” she says.

Miss Holofcener knows personally the kind of pain felt by longtime friends with disparate incomes. “Money kept coming up,” she says of why she made “Friends With Money.” “Everyone has so many problems surrounding it, so many issues, from bravado to hubris and entitlement.”

Those real-life exchanges fueled the film’s plot — or the sliver that passes for one. Her idea of a pivotal scene is having one of her characters swipe face cream from a department store.

“Plotting out a movie is not fun,” she confesses. “If I put up the index cards [with each key plot point], it would be such a sad sight.”

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