Criterion Prediction #234: Girlfriends, by Alexander Miller
Director: Claudia Weil
Cast: Melanie Mayron, Anita Skinner, Christopher Guest, Eli Wallach, Bob Balaban
Synopsis: Susan Weinblatt, a photographer and her roommate/best friend Anne Munroe live a modest life together in New York City. However, Susan struggles with loneliness and feelings of rejection when Anne marries her boyfriend and moves out of their apartment.
Susan and Anne’s lives take separate paths, testing their friendship while they face personal and professional struggles.
Critique: One of the best examples of a movie that’s ahead of its time, Girlfriends feels like one of the most influential titles that a precious few people have heard of. What makes this such a strong effort is that it rubs against many recognizable genres and familiar themes and emerges as an entirely original piece of filmmaking. There are traces of the romantic comedy and coming of age dramas; plus, let’s face it, the whole “hip, young artists living in the city” thing (even by 1978) is already a genre unto itself. Still, Weill eschews conventions, referential familiarity and the inherent self-conscious gesturing that could have plunged Girlfriends into the muck of derivative mediocrity. There’s a personal sincerity to the film, Melanie Mayron and Annita Skinner embody these characters with a casual strength, their relationship, their fights, their falling out and eventual reunion is organic. Claudia Weill doesn’t have to “sell it” because we’ve already bought it, and that’s one of the underlying factors that make this film so compelling. The direction feels like it’s channeling a self-sustained aura of distinction when we reach otherwise taboo subjects, abortion, adultery, sex, and sexual health. It’s handled with such mature composure the mere presentation puts the film in an elevated arena, surpassing the need for explanation or rationale.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: There’s a renewed interest in Girlfriends as people are seeing the influence the film had on the likes of the mumblecore genre and directors such as Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach and Lena Dunham, namely with the series Girls.
Plus, Criterion has a penchant for highlighting underseen, essential films that play into modern concerns regarding our social, political landscape. It’s good to see an influx of movies made by female directors in a period when women filmmakers were scarce and that these movies have enduring artistic influence. Girlfriends was also streaming on the Criterion channel some time last year.