“Please Give”, the new film by writer/director, Nicole Holofcener continues her look at our absurdities, contradictions and relations with each other, always with humor and compassion for her main characters. Similar to her last 3 films, “Walking and Talking”, “Lovely and Amazing” and “Friends with Money”, she creates stories that are real and look deeper into her character’s lives exploring the many sides of life that leave the audience with a multitude of conflicting emotions and compassion for the people they see on the screen. Holofcener depicts real life and never sugar coats it. Contradictory emotions like love and hate; beauty and ugliness are captured with humor and depth.
The story revolves around Kate, played by Holofcener’s favorite actress, Catherine Keener, who is married to Alex and together they run a mid-century modern furniture boutique in Manhattan. They obtain new pieces for their showroom through estate sales and hearing about collectors who have died and left behind potential prized possessions that they can buy and sell for a profit. They have a teenage daughter, Abby who is struggling with typical teenage dramas including acne and fighting with her mom, Kate, about why she won’t buy her the latest $200 pair of jeans. Kate suffers from guilt about the pursuit of her happiness, which involves making money opposite the horrible feelings she has for the underprivileged she runs into on a daily basis living in New York City. She feels a need to constantly hand the homeless person on the corner some money. Kate and Alex live next door to Andra, an elderly old bitter woman who has two Granddaughters Mary (Amanda Peet) and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall). Rebecca, the good daughter, comes to visit Andra and take care of her on a daily basis but Mary can’t be bothered and sports a tough bitchy nature. Kate and Alex plan to buy the apartment that Andra lives in and combine the two apartments creating a larger living space but can’t do so until Andra dies. This further escalates Kate’s guilt and conflict for wanting what will make her happy versus the guilt she feels for waiting for Andra to die. She tries to show her caring side by celebrating Andra’s birthday and inviting Mary and Rebecca over for a Birthday celebration. The awkward dinner party only adds further discomfort and animosity for the unlikely gathering.
Meanwhile, we learn more about the Granddaughters, Mary and Rebecca. Rebecca works at a hospital and administers mammograms, which is shown in complete graphic nature as the opening credits begin. The montage of various sized close-ups on breasts sets the tone for the uncomfortable procedure paralleling the equally uncomfortable situations the characters find themselves in throughout the film. Rebecca is devoted to her work and caring for her elderly grandmother but rarely takes time to go on dates or look at the leaves change color even when her co-worker’s encourage her to join them on a friendly outing. Mary, on the other hand, is works in a spa giving facials and is recently single. She claims to have fun checking up on her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend who works at a trendy women’s boutique clothing store. “You have to see the size of her back, it’s massive”, she tells her sister. Making fun of her and just about everyone else seems to be a way for Mary to pass the time.
“It’s nice when we can laugh, ” says Catherine Keener, “Because there’s some very heavy material.” referring to “Please Give”. Amanda Peet who begged Holofcener to put her in one of her movies for seven years adds, “Nicole doesn’t write villains,” whose character Mary comes closest to villainy as the neighbor who flirts – and then some- with Kate’s husband. “Everyone has villainous moments and everyone has sublime moments.” If you haven’t seen one of Holofcener’s films I urge you to start now as she has crafted an ingenious way of writing characters who mirror many of our own lives and their everyday peculiarities, upsets and joys all bundled into all of her multi-faceted characters. You can’t help but have compassion for these people while seeing a little bit of ourselves in them. The film wouldn’t be the same without the many moments of humor that is sprinkled throughout the story to break up the discomfort the characters and audience feel.
Keener, whom many have speculated is the closest character to the real life writer/director, is present in all of Holofcener’s four films to date. To round out the cast, “Please Give” features excellent acting by Amanda Peet who plays the icy, ‘chip on her shoulder’, Mary. Rebecca Hall, who you may remember from the film, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, plays the ‘good’ sister who desperately needs to have some fun, Oliver Platt is believable opposite Keener as one half of a marriage/business partner relationship that is leading more towards best friends than lovers. Sarah Steele, who plays the teenage daughter, Abby, displays the typical teenage frustrations and angst most notably towards her mother. Finally Ann Guilbert gives Andra the feisty, bitterness that the character needs but spews hilarious lines that somehow make her likable.
The contradictory feelings you have for the characters in “Please Give” are exactly what will make viewers laugh, empathize and ultimately find common overall humanity. Watching a Holofcener film can be therapeutic and funny at the same time but, it’s the writing and acting that will have you caring for each of the lives on screen.
“Please Give” opens in New York and Los Angeles on April 30th with additional theaters coming soon. Visit site here!
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