All of Nicole Holofcener’s films have a way of slowly evolving that is utterly convincing. In her last film, the wonderful Friends with Money, she presented four women in a way audiences were not used to seeing. They had depth, emotion, believable problems and troubling issues. In short, they were the anti-Sex and the City gals.
Her new film, Please Give may very well be her best yet. As is the case with every Holofcener film, Catherine Keener stars in the lead role, this time as a New York City woman longing to help others, but cutting corners to help herself.
Her and her amicable husband (Oliver Platt) purchase possessions from the estates of dead people for dirt cheap, then sell them for an exaggerated profit. Things we might value as useless, Keener and Platt can sell for $4,500 in their chic Village store. The two also have a quick-witted, heinously adolescent daughter (impressive newcomer Sarah Steele, who, unlike her Twilight counterparts, is actually believable as a struggling teenager.)
The family’s elderly neighbor is an inch away from death, which is good news for them, as they bought her apartment long ago in hopes of expanding their living space once she kicks the bucket. But bad for the old woman’s kind granddaughter (Rebecca Hall), who takes care of her nanny while her cruel, narcissistic sister (an incredible Amanda Peet) does spa treatments for rich people.
I’m having a hard time describing what the film is about because, essentially, it isn’t about anything. It’s a multiple-person character study that is best played out in front of your eyes, because what the characters do isn’t nearly as interesting as how the actors manage to pull it off.
Keener’s character wants nothing more than to help people, but pay attention to her during the scene where she watches several children with Down’s syndrome play basketball. She stands on the sidelines watching the kids play. It’s an innocent gesture, one that a lesser actor would do nothing with. But watch Keener’s face, look at what she is telling you with her eyes.
As much as I was convinced that Please Give boasted, arguably, Catherine Keener’s finest performance, I’d be remised if I did not mention the fact that Amanda Peet steals the show.
Glowing with a way-too-bronze tan and dressed to the tilt at every occasion, Peet dominates every scene she is in, whether through frank sexuality or brutally selfish dialogue. Peet has been stealing scenes for over a decade in films like The Whole Nine Yards, Changing Lanes, Igby Goes Down, Syriana, and the short-lived TV show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. But in Please Give, she goes places I never expected her to go.
I understand that Please Give may seem like too slight a film to venture all the way to an independent theatre for. But that’s okay, because this is a movie you can enjoy in any setting. I promise, just simply watching Keener and Peet will be time well spent. A-