Around Town: Lena Dunham and Claudia Weill become 'Girlfriends'
A young woman involved in New York City's arts community navigates her way through a complicated web of female friendships and male romantic entanglements, a story told with a sharp eye to comedy and a finger-on-the-pulse feel for contemporary style. While that seems like an adequate enough description of Lena Dunham's recent indie success story "Tiny Furniture," it is in fact also an apt summary of director Claudia Weill's 1978 film "Girlfriends."
On Friday night, the film will screen at the Human Resources art space in L.A.'s Chinatown followed by a conversation between Weill and Dunham.
Starring Melanie Mayron and Anita Skinner with Bob Balaban, Christopher Guest and Eli Wallach, "Girlfriends" won prizes at the Toronto and Locarno film festivals in its day, was nominated for a Golden Globe and was praised by no less an authority than Stanley Kubrick, who in an interview called the film "one of the very rare American films that I would compare with the serious, intelligent, sensitive writing and filmmaking that you find in the best directors in Europe."
"I first saw 'Girlfriends' this past winter at the 92YTrBeCa in NYC. Several friends had alerted me to the film and its parallels to my work and I found it utterly stunning," wrote Dunham in an email. "It felt eerie, in the true sense of the word, how familiar this film was to me even though I had never actually seen it," added Dunham, who has parlayed the acclaim of "Tiny Furniture" into an upcoming HBO television show "Girls," with Judd Apatow as executive producer. "I almost thought, 'Have I see this and been gently ripping it off for the last five years?' Claudia was in-house and I bum-rushed her afterward, basically shouting, 'I feel your feelings!' "
Friday's event is the first film screening put on at Human Resources by organizer Kate Wolf, who heard Dunham was a fan of the film and went from there.
"I was really interested to hear her take on Claudia's movie," said Wolf, "as a fellow independent filmmaker, woman, New Yorker and master of a type of naturalistic comedy that comes from precision and nuance as opposed to satire or raunch."
After "Girlfriends," Weill made 1980's "It's My Turn," starring Jill Clayburgh, Charles Grodin and Michael Douglas. In the years since, Weill has also directed for theater and television and taught at a number of institutions, including USC.
For a young filmmaker like Dunham, Weill's long career can provide something of a road map for the long-term, instructive in how to navigate Hollywood's periodic infatuations with female-focused material.
"Much like the girls in 'Girlfriends,' I'm not quite ready to picture my future," said Dunham of Weill's example, "but she's definitely a comfort and an inspiration."
Friday's screening is free, and seating is first come, first served. High-waisted jeans, whether worn as a retro tribute to the film or in the contemporary style, are entirely optional.
"It still feels very timely in terms of its humor," noted Wolf of the film's surprisingly on-trend look and feel. "As well, its portrayal of the difficulties and subsequent humiliations that come from growing up and going against a certain social norm — trying to live a life that is both self-truthful and gratifying — is something Claudia captured so well and I think still very relevant."
— Mark Olsen
Photo: A 1978 poster for the release of the Warner Bros. movie "Girlfriends."