28 June 2011

Nicole Holofcener's Please Give (2010)

Having partly grown up with film producer Charles H. Joffe as a stepfather, the influence of Woody Allen's movies on Nicole Holofcener is quite pronounced: the emphasis on relationships, the soul-searching, the timidity, the psychological/social problems, the importance of appearances, the sex problems,etc. All of her movies draw a great deal of humor from personal behavior or social situations, and all include generational conflicts.

After Walking and Talking (1999) - which I've yet to see - came Lovely and Amazing (2001), Friends with Money (2006), and her fourth is Please Give (2010), which Holofcener originally wanted to call 'The Cake Is Bad', but perhaps wisely chose to drop. All of her movies so far have starred Catherine Keener, which is also a very wise choice.

Kate and Alex (Keener and Oliver Platt) have a furniture store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where they sell modern mid-century stuff bought from heirs of the recently deceased. They live in an apartment with their zit-plagued daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) and plan to extend, so they have bought the adjoining apartment to do so. But the arrangement is that Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), a comically rude and insensitive 91-year-old, will live there until her death. She has two grandchildren - radiologist Mary (Amanda Peet), and cosmetician Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), both of whom have worked for Woody Allen.

As is usual in Holofcener movies, most ot the characters have problems.

Kate 'wants to change the world', as Abby observes. She feels guilt at taking so much money from the heirs, but can't not do this work as she knows someone else would do it. She feels compelled to give money (even - bizarrely - Chanel Rouge) to homeless people on the street, but refuses to pay $200 for a pair of jeans for Abby, even though she pays the same herself.  She Googles voluntary organizations to help people physically, but starts to break down in a home for Downs Syndrome kids, the deepest irony being that one of the girls she's crying over hears her in one of the toilets and asks if she needs help.

But at least she's not a bitch, which is how Mary comes over. Mary stalks she former boyfriend's new girlfriend, drinks too much and behaves insultingly, has an (improbable) affair with Alex and allows her sister Rebecca to do most of the work for Andra.

And Andra is the grandmother from hell, who can never be pleased, complains about the food she is given, the birthday presents she's given, and insults just about everyone.

Abby's troubles are more external - she has a serious zit problem, and at just 15 she can be excused her anxiety, even excused when she wears panties over her head at the dinner where Andra, Mary and Rebecca are invited into the apartment. Perhaps it's not surprising that otherwise well-adjusted Abby gets on well with the also well-adjusted Rebecca, who seems like an angel compared with some of the other main characters, and she even lets Abby in on her past, when - her father long since gone - her mother killed herself when Rebecca was the same age as Abby is now.

So, after a couple of computer dates, one being with an idiot who quibbles over the exact description she's made about the color of her hair, it seems that Rebecca is rewarded by meeting Eugene, who seems like a nice guy.  Even Abby's happy as her parents buy her a pair of jeans for $235.

Holofcener creates humor out of the chaos of everyday lives, creates believable and sympathetic characters in spite of all their faults, and creates dialog that sometimes is so odd that it feels as though it can only have come from real life (whatever that is). The two films of hers before this - which I may well get round to discussing at a later date - were really absorbing. As is this, but I wouldn't want to make comparisons: we are talking about a major contemporary American independent movie director who hasn't really received the attention she deserves.

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