Susan Weinblatt (Melanie Mayron) is a photographer living in New York City with her best friend, aspiring writer Anne Munroe (Anita Skinner). Susan and Anne both have big dreams, but are struggling to make their way, with Susan shooting baby pictures and Bar Mitzvahs while trying to score a gallery exhibit of her work. Rabbi Gold (Eli Wallach) often helps Susan get paying gigs.
Struggle as they might, Susan and Anne at least have each other… that is, until Anne decides to marry her boyfriend Martin (Bob Balaban). Anne moves out, leaving Susan with no roommate and, more importantly, no one to share the ups and downs of her days with.
Girlfriends was directed and produced by Claudia Weill, from a screenplay by Vicki Polon. The film was shot over the course of a year and was reportedly a favorite of Stanley Kubrick.
Relatively few films explore female friendship and do a good job of it. In recent years we’ve seen maybe a handful — Frances Ha and Life Partners, for example — but not many scripts focus on these relationships as their prime subjects. With Girlfriends, Weill and Polon crafted a truthful portrayal of two best friends and the growing pains involved in their relationship as they get older, with their lives taking differing paths.
Melanie Mayron gives a wonderful performance in the central role of Susan, which comes as no surprise to me since I’ve long been a fan of her through Thirtysomething. (Fun connection: In that series she again played a photographer and, for three episodes, was directed by Claudia Weill!)
The film has the funny-but-melancholy feeling and mildly-paced plotting often found in the films of the ’70s, and in independent films especially (in my viewing experience, anyway). It’s a quiet film, but an impactful one. The pace and mood work incredibly well with the film’s subject matter and only serve to add to the authenticity of Susan’s character journey.
It’s every bit as relatable today as it would have been to women in 1978. And more than only focusing on the changing relationship between Susan and Anne, Girlfriends is a story of a young woman trying to find her own happiness: through her career, through love, through building a life for herself in the city. The great adventure of becoming a bonafide “adult,” living alone and providing for yourself, comes with its fair share of challenges. We follow Susan as she deals with both the good and the bad.
Girlfriends is deserving of the “modern classic” qualifier because it’s a timeless story, told with honesty and led by a great performance from its lead actress.