September 9, 2010
It is refreshing to see a filmmaker approach upper-middle class guilt with such honesty and good humour as writer/director Nicole Holofcener does with her latest American Indie flick Please Give (2010). Hardly a stranger to the topic, Holofcener also wrote and directed Friends With Money back in 2006. Please Give unabashedly begs the question, if you have money and a conscience to what extent do your social responsibilities outweigh, or do they attempt to coexist with, your personal wants and desires?
Catherine Keener heads up a brilliantly selected cast as Kate, a wealthy woman who makes her living selling vintage furniture – that she buys “from the children of dead people” no less – in partnership with her overweight, unashamedly capitalist glutton of a husband Alex (Oliver Platt). Trying desperately to “give back” to society and teach her spotty, bratty fifteen-year-old daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) a lesson in the interim, Kate spouts guilty mantra such as “Forty-five homeless people are living on our block” so often one might think it were in danger of going out of fashion. Concurrently, Abby tries desperately to get Kate to shell out for a facial and a pair of $200 jeans that might just get her caught up with fashion, refuting the homeless’ need for cash, “What do they care? They don’t want jeans.”
Things go from bad to worse and Kate finds herself at the brink of her guilt threshold when they invite elderly next-door neighbour Andra (whose apartment Kate and Alex have bought with a view to renovate when she dies) and her two miserable granddaughters Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet) for dinner one night. Mary, who is probably the most awfully perfect embodiment of self-centredness and tactlessness the big screen has recently had the pleasure to play host to, blatantly addresses the enormous elephant in the room and asks Kate point-blank what her plans for Andra’s apartment are when she, stubborn old bag that she is, eventually kicks the bucket.
Full of fantastic and, quite often outrageous one-liners, Please Give pushes the boundaries of what’s funny constantly inviting its audience to wonder if it’s okay to laugh at what they just laughed at. Although the film does give its audience permission to laugh as well as permission not to indulge too heavily in societal guilt in answering its own question several times throughout the film; Kate: “Alex, how come you feel so okay about it [buying & profiting from the children of dead people]?”, Alex: “Because it’s okay.” it never truly lets its audience off the hook. This exchange must be taken with at least a pinch of conscience-ridden salt as Alex, the enabler of “it’s okay” is also the character whose morals are what might be considered a little “fast and loose” at times, his judgement and honesty not necessarily “aspirational”.
And ultimately it is these well measured characters to whom the film owes its achievement as they pretty much all strike the fine balance between being intensely likeable and abhorrently obnoxious all at once: essentially, they’re human.
Please Give is released in Australian cinemas today – Thursday September 09 2010.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.