What I’ve Been Watching: Please Give (2010).
Who’s Responsible: Nicole Holofcener (writer-director), Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, and Oliver Platt (stars).
Why I Watched It: Keener and Peet.
Seen It Before? No.
Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 7.
Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 4.
Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 6.
And? Once again, I embarked upon a film for other reasons, only to find that it was made by someone whose work I had enjoyed in the past, even though I didn’t recognize Holofcener’s name when it started. I see now that she previously did Lovely & Amazing and Friends with Money, both of which I liked, and I’m now very eager to see her first film as a writer-director, Walking and Talking; seems she even directed an episode of Parks and Recreation, one of the few shows I actually watch. I feel like we need some sort of term to describe the type of films she makes, something catchier than “ensemble-dramedy-character-studies,” of which Mr. Guns, Monsters, and Naked Women is a fan.
In this case, I was drawn in by the prospect of seeing two of what I consider our most appealing contemporary actresses, Keener—who has been in all four of Holofcener’s auteur efforts—and Peet. The latter did not disappoint with her performance, although her character, Mary, was abrasive and, ironically, ended up having an affair (something about which I feel very strongly) with Keener’s husband, Alex (Platt). Her motivation for entering into this affair is unclear, since Platt is, to say the least, hardly Peet’s equal in the looks department, and our brief glimpses of their trysts appear remarkably joyless on her part, but the film is nothing if not a portrait of people with lots of confused emotions.
It centers on the inhabitants of next-door New York apartments: Alex and Kate (Keener), who sell antique furniture while raising a daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), and sisters Mary and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who live with their cantankerous and elderly grandmother, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert). Andra’s imminent demise is of interest to Alex and Kate, not for the usual reason, i.e., to purchase the contents of her apartment for possible resale, but so that they can expand their own. Experiencing growing doubts over the nature of their business, Kate is constantly trying to do good by volunteering (with little success) and by giving to the homeless with a generosity resented by Abby, who feels neglected.
Rebecca is a radiology technician, and one of her mammography patients, Mrs. Portman (Lois Smith), talks her into a date with grandson Eugene (Thomas Ian Nicholas), leading to a leaf-looking road trip with the three of them and Andra. Mary, still haunted by the breakup of a previous relationship, is unfulfilled by her liaison with Alex, which she soon calls to a halt, and which seems paradoxically to strengthen his marriage to Kate. A kind of equilibrium is reached by the end of the film, which offers neither easy answers nor a strong storyline, but instead provides effective performances and characterizations, along with a host of trenchant, sharply etched, and thought-provoking observations about life.