By David Poland email@example.com
Mini-Review: Please Give
Please Give has stuck with me.
I have had mixed feelings about Nicole Holofcener’s work over the years. The intensity of praise can overwhelm the reality of what she is making. But one can’t argue, many of her moments are indelible… and that is no mean feat.
She and I share a lot of common touchstones. And Please Give is perhaps the most directly connected to those elements that match. I feel like I have known the people who have inhabited all fo her films. But somehow, whether it’s age or parenthood or the fact that I have now had a discussion about the film with three different estate furniture store owners – Please Give is apparently my FourSquare – I feel more connected.
The story is pretty basic. A couple, who own an estate furniture business in Manhattan, have hit a certain wall in their lives together. Their daughter is becoming a self-obsessed – though unusually self-aware – teen. They are waiting to expand their apartment, where presumably they will live out the last few decades of their lives, having purchased the apartment next door, which they will take occupancy of when the current tenant dies. And the wife is beginning to consider whether their business lives off the loss of others. Things turn as guilt draws them into the lives of the woman next door and her two granddaughters.
Lovely and Amazing and Friends With Money were both, it seems to me, about being settled into a comfortable place that isn’t always so comfortable. But it seems to me that the settled in this film has a capital S. Perhaps the first of more capital letters to come.
The death of Friends With Money, for me and I think for many others, was Jennifer Aniston as a struggling young woman who worked as a maid. No question, she exists out there. No question, it felt completely false in this movie, by no fault of Aniston’s performance or Holofcener’s writing or directing. Not only did she feel wrong, but the circus she brought with her to the film was a big distraction. Not her fault. But the problem is, I think, a real one.
Imagine if Emily Mortimer did the “rate my body” scene from Lovely & Amazing now. Instead of her being an appealing woman doing this fascinating thing, it would be Emily Mortimer’s breasts, ass, pubic hair, etc, on display. Her nudity and her performance might be little different, but looking at someone you “know” versus someone who is new to you – even though many of us had scene Mortimer in other films, she was still an actor and not a celebrity of some kind, at least in the US – is quite different.
Trucker was at EbertFest and Michelle Monaghan is riding some guy in the opening scene with her t-shirt still on… and it doesn’t feel like she’s avoiding nudity because he character isn’t interested in getting cozy or being gently touched by this man… she is getting her rocks off and moving on. But nothing takes me out of a scene that involves vulnerability, physical or otherwise, that feels like some part of it is a contractual choice, not an aesthetic one by the actors or director.
In a movie called FRIENDS With Money, the wealthiest actor in the film playing the can’t-get-her-shit-together weak link… tough to get there. And I wonder what the film would have felt like without her.
But I digress (a lot)…
While the motives and behaviors and noise of the people in Please Give is often less than pretty, I felt all those pieces floating together in The City, where unlikely is likely to be the rule of the day, and one faces a parade of demands on one’s skill to self-justify through every single day.
Oliver Platt is the only major male character in this piece. As usual, Holofcener is making a movie that is mostly about women. But as a man, I didn’t feel disconnected from the themes. Death hangs over the film and as we get past 40, more and more in all of our lives. Ann Guilbert steals the show as the grandmother… the specter of death. But even more so, she reminds us how we all narrow as we get older… the death before the death.
As with all Holofcener, the story takes us from H to H-and-a-half in the lives of her central characters. But we might be getting a little farther here. The decision not to leap can be as profound as the decision to leap. Of course, that was what Eyes Wide Shut was about and a lot of people walked away from that film unhappy. So…