By Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Nicole Holofcener
STARS Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet
The Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio and Tim Burton-Johnny Depp partnerships have become famous in their own right, so why not the team of writer-director Nicole Holofcener and actress Catherine Keener? All four of Holofcener's films to date Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money and now Please Give have featured Keener heading impressive ensembles, and all four have proven to be smart, engaging watches. My only complaint? Holofcener only makes a movie every four or five years (in between, she's directed episodes of such shows as Six Feet Under and Sex and the City), meaning that a lot of terrific ideas are probably being left untouched on her computer desktop.
In Please Give, Keener stars as Kate, who runs an antique furniture store in New York City with her husband Alex (Oliver Platt). The couple buy their items from the kids or grandkids of elderly folks who have just passed away and have no use for the dearly departed's possessions. This morbid approach to business extends to their home life as well, as they've purchased the apartment unit next to them and plan to expand as soon as its 91-year-old tenant, the perpetually grouchy Andra (Ann Morgan Guibert), passes away. Tending to Andra is her sweet and shy granddaughter Rebecca (Rebecca Hall); doing her best to avoid the old lady is Rebecca's tart-tongued sister Mary (Amanda Peet). All of these folks have problems, although the focus is mainly on Kate: A bleeding heart liberal who gives homeless people 20-dollar bills, Kate realizes the capitalist nature of her enterprise and is having trouble reconciling her work with her spiritual needs.
With the exception of Rebecca, nobody in Please Give is a saint in fact, most can be downright infuriating but that, as always, is Holofcener's strength as a filmmaker. Compare these wonderfully flawed, beautifully insecure and wholly believable characters with the preprogrammed mannequins seen in such chowderheaded efforts as, say, The Back-Up Plan or Killers, and the contrast is startling. Holofcener doesn't dumb her women down, but neither does she place them on pedestals. Instead, she treats her females (and males) as real people, and that's the highest compliment she could give them.