Welcome to Harvey’s Hellhole, a monthly column devoted to spotlighting the movies that were poorly marketed, mishandled, reshaped, neglected or just straight-up destroyed by Harvey Weinstein during his reign as one of the most powerful studio chiefs in Hollywood. With the recent, unfortunate passing of Anne Heche in the news, this month’s column goes back to that time when she starred in an indie dramedy that Miramax bought – and buried.
I’ve never seen a promising young actress have a quicker rise and fall than Anne Heche did in the late ‘90s.
In the span of three years, the Daytime Emmy-winning, ex-soap star went from indie darling (doing odd-ass movies like Donald Cammell’s lurid Wild Side) to scene-stealing supporting actress (she played Johnny Depp’s ferocious wife in the mob drama Donnie Brasco) to above-title star (she locked lips with Harrison Ford in the adventurous rom-com Six Days Seven Nights). But, by the time the 21st century rolled around, she was out of the picture. Her brief but very public relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, who had a controversial coming-out herself, led to her getting shunned by the major studios. And, then, there was that incident where she was found by cops in an ecstasy-fueled daze after their breakup. She spent her later years mostly doing primetime TV, including a stint on Dancing with the Stars.
During what I like to call her indie year, she did an adorable turn in Walking and Talking, the debut 1996 movie from filmmaker Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money, Enough Said). She and Catherine Keener star as New Yorkers/lifelong best friends Laura and Amelia. Laura is a therapist who recently became engaged to her boyfriend Frank (Todd Field). This causes some tension between her and Amelia, a single gal who can’t seem to get her ish together.
Keener has the meatier role, playing Amelia as a hopelessly awkward flake with a cancer-ridden cat and a taste for semi-creepy dudes. (Liev Schreiber plays her porn-addicted ex, while Kevin Corrigan is a horror-obsessed, video-store clerk she ghosts when he finds out she and Laura call him “the ugly guy”) But Heche has her own moments of neurotic behavior. Laura starts down a subtle spiral of self-sabotage after she accepts her beau’s proposal, nagging him about getting a mole on his chest checked and even hanging out with a waiter/actor (Randall Batinkoff) she regularly flirts with. But she also makes Laura an appealing significant other, engaging in such intimate activities with her man as holding his penis when he urinates. (I’m quite certain there were men who saw this and wished it was their junk she was holding.)
While Walking is a quick and tidy look at messy, sympathetic young adults in the Big Apple, when I saw Walking in the summer of ‘96, I gotta admit I was turned off by how, you know, white it is. You have to remember this film came out during a time when stories about single, pale-faced, usually snarky twentysomethings, living and loving and all that bullshit, were all the rage in pop culture. While Friends and its ripoffs were all over the small screen, we also had movies like Reality Bites, Bodies, Rest and Motion, Sleep with Me, etc. (At that time, I found that any movie starring Eric Stoltz was gonna be white and neurotic as hell.)
While Walking does exhibit the same overwhelming whiteness of those aforementioned films, it’s more – shall we say – feminine because a woman is behind the camera. As she would do throughout most of her film career, Holofcener crafted a story about female friendship – and solidarity. It’s basically about how Keener and Heche’s characters try to continue having a bond, even when they’re living their own separate lives. And unlike her male counterparts, Holofcener shows off a hearty sense of self-awareness. She knows damn well she’s making a film that might turn guys off. This is exhibited in the movie’s most oft-quoted scene, where Amelia, Laura and Frank are driving to the country home of Amelia’s parents, where Laura and Frank will hold the wedding. After listening to Joan Osborne non-stop on the radio, Frank has had enough. “Do we really have to listen to this ‘vagina music’ all the way there?” he asks. Amelia and Laura simultaneously reply, “Yes!”
Now, let’s talk about how Harvey Weinstein fucked over this movie.
As Holofcener herself revealed in a 2011 IndieWire piece, while Walking and Talking was bought by Miramax after a positive Sundance premiere, the studio released it around the same time as another female-centric movie of theirs: Douglas McGrath’s crowd-pleasing adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, starring Miramax muse Gwyneth Paltrow. Even though Walking was getting good reviews, Harvey and them decided that they could only throw their marketing and publicity support behind one art-house movie geared for women that summer. “We didn’t even have a premiere or a party,” Holofcener wrote. ”I was invited to the Emma premiere. I think that was my consolation prize.”
Eventually, this $1 million-budgeted movie only made $1.6 million at the box office, another title that had to fend for itself once Miramax threw it out into the wild. Nevertheless, there are people, like Slate’s Dana Stevens, who feel it laid down the groundwork for the more successful, comic tales of girl BFFs (Bridesmaids, Girls, Broad City) that would come years later. “Indeed,” Stevens wrote in 2016, “women telling stories about other women walking and talking—and flirting, and fucking, and fighting—now live at the forefront of comedy.”
Most everyone involved in Walking went on to bigger and better things: Holofcener and Keener made more movies together, Field directed the Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom for Miramax in 2001, Schreiber became Ray Donovan, even bit players Allison Janney (as Amelia’s neighbor) and Vincent Pastore (as Laura’s devil-seeing patient) went on to memorable TV work. But Heche was the first one to break out and have a short-but-memorable rise to the top. Now that she’s no longer with us, hopefully more people will go back to her early work and discover what made people find her so – if I may use a Holofcener movie title – lovely and amazing.