In Annabelle Gurwitch’s life, there are no Hottie McHandsomes or tropical island getaways. Instead, in her new collection of essays, You’re Leaving When? Adventures in Downward Mobility, she writes with hilarious poignancy about tackling midlife malaise on an austerity budget. Director Nicole Holofcener has also made a career of chronicling the messy complexities of women’s lives in films like Enough Said and Friends with Money. Here, the two women get real.
Nicole Holofcener: Well, I think your new book is hilarious. I laughed out loud and smiled throughout. So much of what you write is familiar to me. I love how open you are about your kid, your life, your pussy, your craziness.
Annabelle Gurwitch: I think you just called me crazy, but I’m good with that. But that’s one of the things I admire in your work: You’re pushing the boundaries of the taboo subjects of ordinary life. I’m continually astonished by the vulnerability of the characters you write and I’m curious: What do you feel are the most personal emotions and intimate desires that you’re depicting on screen?
NH: Fear of loneliness. Neediness.
AG: Like Catherine Keener in Enough Said. You give us this mature woman who’s got everything. She’s friends with Joni Mitchell, she’s a poet, she’s Catherine Keener so she’s a living goddess, and yet, she still needs friends.
NH: She’s both lonely and judgmental.
AG: And somehow I didn’t hate her. I recognized myself in her. I’m not proud of that, but it was uncomfortable in the best way possible, it made me reflect on the unkind things I’ve said. I’m a little envious of how you manage so much nuance.
NH: Well, I was cheering you on when you write about vaginal atrophy in this new book. I really appreciated that. I also wondered, “Is Annabelle worried about ever dating again?”
AG: I think many men imagine themselves licensed EMTs in vaginal resuscitation, so they’ll be undeterred. But we shall see.
NH: You write about your relationship with your kid, Ezra. Do you run what you’re writing by them first?
AG: Yes. When I decided to write about adapting to my child’s evolving gender identity and finding their backpack stuffed with plastic baggies of weed—the internationally recognized symbol of “I’m selling drugs”— I had to ask their permission.
NH: I hurt someone once with something I wrote, and I was surprised. It didn’t occur to me that it would have that effect. I can’t imagine my life without my girlfriends. I laughed out loud reading about the friends buying a row of tiny houses together.
AG: It’s never going to happen, right? What location would be convenient so we’d all be located near our children? And what about our friends who don’t have children? Why shouldn’t someone’s fondness for a particular Shake Shack have the same weight as someone else’s proximity to their kids? And will we find it in ourselves to accommodate someone’s annoying habits? And by “someone,” I mean me. There’s also the uncomfortable question of will our finances separate us? You addressed this in Friends with Money. Was that film based on an incident in your life?
NH: I was at a dinner one night and there was that moment when the check came that crystalized the idea for the film. Everyone had different levels of financial security, and we could all feel it: “Who’s going to pick up the check?” I find money very interesting in that it reveals many dichotomies in people.
AG: In this book, I write about buying a discounted ticket on Kayak that turned out to be an unfilled seat on a private jet. I’m ethically opposed to flying private, and yet flying swaddled in luxury was so intoxicating that I was ready to sell an organ on the black market in order to avoid ever again flying out of LAX, which is the Penn Station of airports. That does not fit with the story I tell myself about who I am and what I stand for.
NH: But I bet there was no line for the ladies room at the private hub?
AG: Yes, and there were fresh flowers on the vanity. So if I’m ever found in a bathtub full of ice, missing a kidney, please tell my family that the tipping point was the fresh flowers in the bathrooms.