Director: Nicole Holofcener
The centre of Please Give’s universe is a crabby matriarch called Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert). Frankly, she’s a senile old witch who doles out uncomfortably frank criticism to whoever will listen, especially her granddaughters, the caring Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and spoilt little rich girl Mary (Amanda Peet). Next door, Andra’s neighbours Kate and Alex (Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt) run a second-hand furniture business, with much of their merchandise coming from the families of recently-deceased persons clearing out their belongings. Not that they don’t like their neighbour, but they secretly hope to add on Andra’s apartment to their own once the old bag dies. Ah, what lovely people. Still, they’re saints compared to Mary, who just wants Grandma dead for the sake of convenience.
Nicole Holofcener has a reputation for making films about women; it’s true that the protagonists of Lovely and Amazing and Friends With Money were all women, but to call them and Please Give films about women is to force them into too constricted a category. For example the latter, Holofcener’s latest, juggles a great many themes and ideas and expresses them with humour. Harkening back to Woody Allen’s 80‘s satirical streak (think Alice or Crimes and Misdemeanors), this setup permits the actors to juggle Holofcener’s script and the thematic delights therein. Kate feels guilty about her business, and compensates by giving money to homeless people on the street, and her guilt is not helped by Andra. However, Rebecca and Kate have much in common, though these two women are separated by class divisions and a certain animosity. There are easily identifiable lessons about consumerism (Buying things won’t complete me. Who knew?), the blandness and guilt of wealthy urban life and class divides in Please Give, but it ultimately boils down to our appreciation of the things we have. All these characters are surrounded by reminders of aging and death, be it an dying grandmother, an image-conscious daughter (Kate and Alex’s, played by Sarah Steele) or the mammograms Rebecca issues to check for cancer. These characters all feel guilty about the things they’ve taken for granted, first and foremost the simple things of life. Thankfully, the film is never emotionally exploitative, maintaining a certain emotional distance and a biting wit all the way.
Guilbert steals many a scene with her blunt opinions about everything, and therein lies the point of Please Give: simple truths and basic remedies are all that are required to muddle through sometimes. Why please others when you can’t please yourself? Thankfully, this moral is brought to life through choice dialogue and unfussy performances. Guilbert and Steele provide great foils for their respective family members to bounce off, while Keener, Hall and Platt are wonderfully likable, despite some huge character flaws. The Holofcener-Keener team has produced another likeable slice of suburban angst, both entertaining and identifiable. Let’s face it; we all know some old bag we’d like to get rid of, but couldn’t do without sometimes.