Director: Nicole Holofcener
Cast: Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet, Ann Guilbert
Watch Please Give online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Some people give. Some people take. Some people buy dead people’s furniture and sell it on for a profit. People like Kate (Keener) and Alex (Platt), a married couple who trade in grave robbing with their trendy New York store. It’s not long before they buy up the apartment next door, waiting for its elderly occupant, Andra (Guilbert), to drop dead and give up her couch. These are not nice people. Which would explain why they’re full of self-loathing. And guilt. And why they talk about it a lot.
Like the recently released Greenberg, Please Give is one of those indie movies that refuses to relinquish its grasp on the awkwardness of life – people talk over each other with blunt insults, using frank honesty to compensate for their own fears. But Nicole Holofcener follows up Friends with Money with a film that never alienates us from her self-centred cast. In fact, some are quite likeable.
That’s not the case with Andra’s granddaughter Mary (Peet), a beautician who has no time for the old woman. But you can’t blame her for being so caustic – for all her wrinkles and age, Andra’s one horrible cow. On a day trip out with her other granddaughter, Rebecca (Hall), she comments on her choice of partner: “You’ve got a handsome boy there. But he’s very short.” Then she complains about her sandwich.
As the two sisters clash with Kate and Alex’s marriage, everything goes wrong, but in a painfully hilarious way: packed with one-liners and honest assessments of inner worries, Holofcener’s female-led script is a touching and uncomfortable piece of writing. The barbs sting with wit and hatred, but grow out of natural, believable dialogue. Her cast relish every full stop.
Chief of all is Catherine Keener, whose pained expression betrays racks of guilt as she walks along the street dishing out dollar bills to everyone she sees who might be homeless. She refuses to spend $200 on her daughter’s jeans, but can’t bear the thought of feeding off those less well off. Supported well by Platt as her ageing husband, they counter the bitterness of Peet’s Mary.
Rebecca Hall, of course, is the most sympathetic of the bunch – a nervous burst of kindness in a world of put-me-downs. This subtle role only highlights her as one of Britain’s great actresses. Holofcener brings her ensemble together with humour and intimacy. For all the sniping and bitching that goes on, she shows she really has a feel for the human condition. And, even more importantly, a feel for what makes good cinema.