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Flicks - Please Give
Please Give 10/10/21 2:46
Flicks - Please Give
Nicole Holofcener's latest offbeat film looks at the problem of owning stuff while still trying to be a good person. As a film critic I'm acutely aware of the "Here today, gone tomorrow" syndrome. In other words, movies that come to town, play for a week, and then, because they don't get enough of an audience, are suddenly gone. For instance, there's a movie called Please Give, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, which I saw this summer and liked, but it was gone before I could review it. Well, now it's come out on DVD.
The movie starts with shots of women's breasts. No, not what you might think, these are the breasts of women getting mammograms, so the sequence emphasizes the ordinariness of the human body, which is in line with the film's method of getting honest by dispelling the useless little illusions that keep us stuck. Rebecca, played by Rebecca Hall, is a radiation technician who assists with the mammograms. She doesn't have much of a social life outside of looking after her cranky curmudgeon of a grandmother. In the next door apartment live Kate and Alex, played by Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt. They own a vintage furniture store stocked with pieces bought at a bargain from the estates of the recently deceased. This rather parasitic occupation is given another twist by the fact that they've already bought the next door apartment from the grandma, which they will possess as soon as she dies. They're decent people and don't wish for her death, but on the other hand, it is an awkward situation. The two families come together for the elderly woman's birthday, attended also by Rebecca's sister Mary, a very very pretty and selfish woman played by Amanda Peet, who unfortunately catches the fancy of Kate's husband.
Holofcener's films center on people's secret insecurities and the sad and humorous ways they try to manage them. Here the most compelling figure is Catherine Keener's Kate, who is constantly assailed by a feeling of guilt about her own privilege which causes her to give excessive amounts of money away to homeless people on the street, while neglecting the desires of her own adolescent daughter. When she tries to get involved in volunteer work, however, the spectacle of suffering disabled children is too much for her to handle—it's her own neediness and vulnerability that's at stake, not the desire to serve. The film's interlocking relationships allow the director to gently riff on the psychology of consumerism, the nuclear family, sibling rivalry, and the treacherous allure of romance. Most amusing is the cranky grandma played by Ann Guilbert—so demanding and self-righteous that Kate and Alex's unstated wish that she might croak becomes comically understandable.
The underrated Holofcener creates films that are not in the Hollywood mold—comedies of self-recognition and empathy rather than mockery. No matter what turns the plot may take, and they do take a few, the essence of this film lies in the peculiarities of human character. We are challenged to look in the mirror and have enough compassion and self-indulgence to laugh.