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Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.33%
Worth A Look86.67%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Please Give
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Take What You Take"
4 stars

Nicole Holofcener‘s “Please Give” is a film that tells the story of two families whose lives are connected by a highly coveted apartment in Manhattan. One consists of a couple who have made a comfortable living for themselves by literally exploiting the dead and dying and a teenage daughter who thinks nothing of loudly and cruelly cursing out her mother in public when she won’t buy her a pair of $200 jeans. The other consists of a monumentally unpleasant old woman too set in her ways to recognize her nastiness and her two granddaughters, one a meek and sweet-hearted type who has essentially put her personal happiness aside to help take care of her and the other a beautiful but embittered type who acts coldly and cruelly to everyone around her as a way of masking her own insecurities and justifies it by claiming to be someone willing to tell the truth. In other words, this is a film that asks viewers to spend a couple of hours in the company of people that, for the most part, they wouldn’t want to be stuck with in an elevator for more than two minutes. And yet, “Please Give” is one of the funnier and more insightful films to come along so far this year because it recognizes that a film about unpleasant people need not be unpleasant itself as long as it remembers not to make them uninteresting as well.

Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt star as Kate and Alex, a married couple with a teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), who run a business specializing in vintage furniture that they purchase cheaply from the children of the recently deceased and then sell at a large markup to hipster types (Sarah Vowell even turns up as a customer) who are into the retro look and are willing to pay a premium in order to achieve it. Along the same lines, they have also purchased the apartment next door to theirs from its current resident, the elderly Andra (Ann Guilbert),and are patiently waiting for her to shuffle off this mortal coil so that they can knock down the wall separating them and double their living space. In an attempt to prove to themselves that they are indeed good people, Kate and Alex invites Andra and the two granddaughters who take care of her--Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a plain and good-natured type who does all of the actual caring when not working in a clinic as a mammogram technician, and Mary (Amanda Peet), a superficially lovely but deeply unpleasant and unhappy person who is more like her grandmother than she would like to admit--to their apartment to celebrate the old woman’s birthday. The party as a whole is a spectacular failure but it does have a couple of unintended consequences when both Alex and Abby find themselves falling under the spell of Mary--the former begins an affair with her that even he is at a loss to explain while the latter mistakes her bluntness and cynicism as attitudes to be admired, especially in comparison to her mother’s increasingly bizarre attempts to prove to herself that she is a good person by giving all her pocket money to homeless people instead of using it to buy her expensive clothes.

Truth be told, I have never been a particular fan of Holofcener’s previous films (“Walking and Talking,” “Lovely and Amazing” and “Friends With Money”)--while she certainly showed a facility for getting strong performances from her actors (she almost made Jennifer Aniston seem like a recognizable human being in “Friends With Money”) and for writing strong and spiky individual scenes involving the kind of prickly emotional material that most filmmakers try to avoid as much as possible, her earlier efforts have always struck me as collections of interesting ideas that never quite managed to pull themselves together in the end. “Please Give,” on the other hand, comes across as a far more satisfying experience than her previous efforts. Once again, she comes up with brilliant little vignettes filed with sharp wit and behavior that most viewers will find both cringe-worthy and eminently recognizable--the most notable being the hilariously disastrous birthday party and a bit where Kate proffers her leftovers on a seemingly homeless man who turns out to be just a guy waiting to get into another restaurant. Additionally, she gets superlative performances from all of her actors, led by the amazing high-wire act performed by regular collaborator Keener that transforms what could have been a shallow and deeply irritating joke of a character into a person whose oddball behavior springs from recognizable human emotions instead of screenplay contrivances. The difference here is that while the story is as episodic and jammed with multiple character arcs as Holofcener’s other efforts, the characters are more fully developed and the various plot strands feel more integrated than they have in the past. More significantly, while her past screenplays have sometimes hit their underlying points a little too hard for their own good, this one plays out with a refreshingly lighter touch that is just right in the way that all the characters pretty much get what they want in the end, even if they don’t always necessarily deserve it. In fact, the only thing about the film that doesn’t completely ring true is the casting of Rebecca Hall as the allegedly frumpy sister--it is another wonderful performance from one of the more exciting new stars to come around in a while but despite the efforts to make her seem relatively plain, she is still attractive enough that most sane men would cheerfully crawl through broken glass or sit through a screening of “Babies” to have a shot at her.

Of course, even as I write these words, I realize that most of you are likely to ignore them this weekend in the rush to kick off the summer movie season with “Iron Man 2.” While I completely understand this particular impulse (hell, even most of the characters in the film itself would probably do the same if given the choice), I can’t help but point out that if you go to see “Please Give,” “Iron Man 2” will still be around next weekend for your perusal--hell, you could also go wild and see both of them this weekend. More significantly, my guess is that while “Iron Man 2” will obviously provide more surface-level razzle-dazzle of the kind that more or less evaporates from the mind as soon as the end credits roll, “Please Give” is the kind of film that will stick with you more deeply in the long run and at a time when entertainment in getting more blatantly superficial than ever, such opportunities are becoming increasingly rare and should not be passed over if they come up.

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originally posted: 05/07/10 15:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Traverse City Film Festival For more in the 2010 Traverse City Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/14/11 Kevin Beard This is one of those quirky films that I loved. 5 stars
10/30/10 Corky Funny, bent and tragic all at once- real characters with real quirks; Bravo! 5 stars
6/08/10 David Hollingsworth Indie dysfunction at its best! 4 stars
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  DVD: 19-Oct-2010



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