Looking at the lives of the middle class in NYC, this quirky, character-driven film is an excellent example of American independent cinema. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money) gives us a story of dissatisfied New Yorkers, who while they don’t really have that much to complain about are oddly captivating with their neuroses and navel-gazing.
Please Give stars queen of the indie flick Catherine Keener (Synecdoche New York) as Kate, co-owner of a trendy second-hand furniture store with husband Alex (Oliver Platt, Frost/Nixon). The couple have an awkward teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), who is going through some self-image issues. Together they live in an apartment next door to the elderly Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), a woman too old to care about manners and social graces. Andra’s granddaughters Rebecca (Rebecca Hall, Vicky Christina Barcelona) and Mary (Amanda Peet, 2012) are her only visitors, mainly Rebecca, a sweet-natured radiologist. Beautician Mary is pretty verbal about her dislike of her grandmother and doesn’t feel the same obligation that keeps her younger sister coming back.
These people’s lives interact and intersect because Kate and Alex have bought Andra’s apartment and are waiting for the old lady to die before they can knock through, a morbid connection that makes the couple feel obliged to be a part of Andra’s life. This odd atmosphere of selfishness and guilt permeates the film. Kate’s feelings of ambivalence about her store’s vulture-like profits from deceased estates, begins to weigh on her conscience. She increasingly overcompensates by trying to give generously to homeless people and by getting involved in community projects, which she is just not cut out for.
There is not a huge amount of plot to Please Give, with the film’s interest coming from the character’s relationships and their inner-sense of vulnerability. Keener is always intriguing to watch on screen and Platt is a good counterbalance to her emotionally torn character. Nearly all the characters walk the tightrope between likeable and unpleasant; especially good is Peet, whose Mary is happy to put her feelings before anyone else’s. Rebecca as the put upon self-sacrificing sister has a less meaty role, but the world of mammograms she inhabits is an unusual and interesting film landscape.
Holofcener looks at middle-class guilt through a female prism, giving us a rather satisfying character study. Please Give isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, it is witty and clever-a pleasing tale where not much happens, but spending time with the film’s characters is enough. The script is invested with a real sense of catharsis, making the film more upbeat than it first appears.
Please Give is released in Australia on 9th September
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Cast: Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet, Sarah Steele, Ann Morgan Guilbert, Thomas Ian Nicholas