A common trope in so-called “women’s pictures”, from 1940s melodramas to modern chick flicks is the pretty heroine and the kooky/ spooky gal pal. Girlfriends makes a switch. The lead is Susan (Melanie Mayron), a geek girl with glasses and kinky hair who moves into a grubby New York cold-water flat south of Houston Street long before it became upmarket SoHo.
Fast-talking, twentysomething Susan is dryly funny, demanding, ambitious, loyal, selfish, loving. Human. Her blonde flatmate Anne (Anita Skinner) is too pretty to stay unhitched for long. The two women have a bond; they are similarly arty. Anne is a poet, Susan is a photographer desperate to break out of doing bar mitzvahs and weddings. When Anne leaves to get married, Susan is bereft and feels a tad betrayed. Will the friendship survive? Unwanted attentions from a replacement female flatmate and an ill-advised liaison with an older, married man (a rabbi, yet) has Susan buffeted but unbowed. She wants it all: the man, the career, and a space of her own.
She gets a gallery show for her more art photographs and has to learn compromise. When she lands a boyfriend there’s a memorable scene when they argue how to make mashed potatoes that’s really an argument about respecting each other. Having it all is never easy.
Girlfriends is a well-observed, wry take on modern living, finding yourself and negotiating work and relationships that (despite the analogue accoutrements of typewriters and single-lens-reflexes) is as relevant today (for young women and men) as it was back then. The grainy photography (it’s a proto-mumblecore movie that really catches the zeitgeist of second-wave feminism) and authentic locations give proceedings an extra realism. It has a gentle humour and none of the superficial, cartoony qualities of Woody Allen’s New York stories. Look out for the excellent supporting cast: Christopher Guest and Bob Balaban play Susan and Anne’s partners and Eli Wallach is the rabbi.
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 16 Nov 2020