July 22, 1996 12:00 PM

Anne Heche, Catherine Keener

This tart treat does way more than merely ambulate and converse. Walking and Talking is a sharply observed comedy about what happens to the longtime friendship between two women, both nearing 30, when one decides to marry. The movie is about growing up and moving on, learning to compromise, and all the other sad, funny and irritating stuff that occurs along the way to truly becoming an adult.

Walking catches these two as one’s life is changing and the other’s isn’t. Both are feeling wobbly. Heche, playing the engaged one, a student therapist, picks fights with her fiancé (Todd Field) and flirts with the waiter at her local java bar. Keener, still single and a classified ads editor, leaves rambling messages on Heche’s answering machine about how vile the sponge in Keener’s own kitchen sink smells and begins dating the dorky clerk (Kevin Corrigan) at her video store, a fellow she refers to as “the ugly guy.”

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener, making a whizbang full-length feature debut, gets her characters and their actions exactly right, right down to a running bit about Keener’s always returning borrowed clothes to Heche either unwashed or unironed. Heche (The Juror) and, especially, Keener (Living in Oblivion) nail their roles; these are actresses with bright futures. Playing the men in their lives, Field is sweetly charming, Corrigan gives one new respect for video clerks, and Liev Schreiber is hilarious as an old beau of Keener’s whose sex life of late is limited to renting dirty movies and making heavy-breathing, long-distance phone calls to a female bellhop he met at an L.A. hotel. (R)

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