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View From the Couch

Friends With Money, Take the Lead

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FRIENDS WITH MONEY (2006). Movies like Friends With Money are often termed “slice of life” films, but when they’re as tasty as this one, a slice won’t suffice: We end up longing for the whole pie. Set in LA, this rich seriocomic gem centers on the daily activities of four close female friends. Three of them indeed have lots of dough: screenwriter Christine (Catherine Keener), clothing designer Jane (Frances McDormand) and stay-at-home mom Franny (Joan Cusack). The friend without money is Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), whose lifestyle forces the others to reflect upon their own circumstances. I greatly enjoyed writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s previous two pictures, 1996’s Walking and Talking and 2002’s Lovely & Amazing, but this might be her most accomplished work yet. Her greatest strength as a writer rests not in her dialogue (though it’s top-grade) but rather in the manner in which she proves to be enormously generous of spirit with all her characters. DVD extras include audio commentary by Holofcener and producer Anthony Bregman, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and peeks at the LA and Sundance premieres.

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: **

TAKE THE LEAD (2006). Inspired by a true story, this centers on the efforts of ballroom dance instructor Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) to teach his elegant craft to a high school class of rowdy inner-city youths. Initially resistant to his efforts, the kids eventually come around once Pierre agrees to mesh his moves with their hip-hop music. The issue of whether the best way to reach troubled kids is by diluting what they should learn with components of what they like is an interesting one — it would take a more courageous movie than this one to even attempt to answer that, but for its part, this allows both sides to weigh in on the argument. The climactic ballroom dance competition is clumsily presented, and I could have done without the heavy-handed “villains” of the piece. Still, Banderas and his young costars are appealing, and the subplots involving the students’ troubled home lives carry more currency than one might expect. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Liz Friedlander and editor Robert Ivison, seven deleted scenes, an interactive tango demonstration, and a look at the real Pierre Dulaine.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **1/2

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