Struggling with struggle in the most charming of ways

Please Give

on March 22, 2010 by Richard Mowe

Nicole Holofcener is reunited with her regular collaborator Catherine Keener, who plays a New York antique dealer and would-be philanthropist in her new comedy-drama Please Give. The film’s humor is gentle and understated, which makes a refreshing change from the multiplex broad-comedy, but Please Give is unlikely to breakout of the indie mould in which it’s built. Still, the film provides many pleasures regardless of its box office potential (which is mid-range for it’s indie stripes).

It may take some time but Nicole Holofcener’s latest effort gradually grows on you. Partly it’s her obvious affection for her oddball collection of characters; partly it’s the performances of the likes of Keener and Oliver Platt as her wayward husband.

Keener’s character, Kate, may have a philanthropic side to her, thrusting dollar bills into the hands of anyone who looks as though they could be needy. On the other hand she makes her living by exploiting the families of New Yorkers whose relatives have recently died.
She buys their furniture and bric-a-brac and then sells it at a huge mark-up. All of the other characters in the film, whether Keener's philandering spouse (Oliver Platt) or her neighbor’s granddaughter (Rebecca Hall), combine their good intentions with selfishness and neurosis in equal measure.

The tone is low-key but very funny. Yet, at the same time, the film also manages to have a sardonic edge. Although it may well be droll and literate it’s also a rather static effort, which means an added burden on the ensemble acting headed by the permanently frazzled Keener. Fortunately the cast is more than up to the challenge.

She and Platt plan to extend their own apartment, which currently they share with their teenage daughter, Abby. The next-door apartment is, however, not yet empty. It’s inhabited by the apartment’s former owner, an elderly widow named Andra. Before Kate and Alex can tear down the walls, Andra needs to vacate the property. And this basically means waiting for her to die.

Keener’s character struggles with the issue of materialism: how can she convince her daughter to do without all those expensive things if she’s not prepared to do without them herself?

Holofcener poses a pertinent question for our cash obsessed times: How can you live your life and be a good person, while the world out there constantly importunes you with poverty, homelessness and sadness?

And obviously it’s slightly personal. She has gone on record as saying: “I’ve been struggling to forgive myself for those contradictions my whole life, and I think that’s a struggle I heaped upon my characters, especially Kate. We tend to instantly sympathize with people who are struggling, so even though my characters do some unattractive things, I hope we can forgive them.”

Delivered in the same fragmentary style as her previous sorties such as 2006's Friends With Money and 2001’s Lovely and Amazing, Please Give never overstays its welcome.

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall and Sarah Steele
Director/Screenwriter: Nicole Holofcener
Producer: Anthony Bregman
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Rating: R for language, some sexual content and nudity
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: April 30 NY/LA

Tags: Nicole Holofcener, Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Sarah Steele, family, money, charity, guilt, romance, aging, death, dying

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