Sarah Steele (left) and Catherine Keener
Please GiveWritten and directed by Nicole HolofcenerStarring Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall and Sarah SteeleRated R*8*Goes well with: Lovely and Amazing, Annie Hall, Laurel Canyon
People have a hard time categorizing Nicole Holofcener's movies. Sure, it'd be easy to label them “chick flicks” because they tend to be about women. But let's face it, what we think of as chick flicks are more often than not insulting to women, painting them as simple, insecure creatures who simply need to find the right man to be happy. Holofcener's films aren't like that at all. She's also been called a female Woody Allen because she's from New York and her films are driven by character and dialogue. But other than that, they share very little in common. Plus, as far as I know, Holofcener never married any of her romantic partner's children.
No, her films stand out because they're really just about people going through the same horrible things we all go through as we live out our insignificant lives. Yes, yes, I know, that sounds terrible and depressing. It's not. Holofcener's movies are enjoyable because she actually makes the mundane important, giving her characters breadth and depth and offering them the real significance we all so desperately crave. There are no Holly Golightlys in her films; Holofcener's characters are flawed creatures, just like anyone reading this sentence right now. But we don't hate them, at all, and many of them we like just fine.
Take Kate (Catherine Keener), for example. She's a New Yorker in her 40s, and she and her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), own a business selling that yuppie crack best known as mid-century furniture. They have a teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), who wants nothing more than any teenage girl wants—nice jeans. Kate feels terribly guilty about everything in her life. About the homeless people who live on her block. About the furniture she buys from the children of dead people and then marks up for Manhattan yuppies. About the fact that the old woman next door hates them because they own her apartment and they'll knock down some walls as soon as she dies. Essentially, Kate sees how unjust the world is and is emotionally paralyzed by her inability to fix things.
The angry old woman next door is Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), who's watched over by her granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet). Rebecca, who is tall, awkward and lonely, gives mammograms for a living and has dedicated herself to making her grandmother's final years comfortable. Her sister, on the other hand, a beautician who sports an unattractive, manufactured tan, has inherited Andra's brutal attitude and forthrightness and is therefore considered far more attractive and cool by young Abby. Mary is tart and nasty, so even Alex is mystified by his attraction to her after he and Kate have the family next door over for Andra's birthday.
None of this really sounds like a big deal, does it? But it is, or it would be, if it was your life. And that's what Holofcener has done during her entire career, tapping into those hard-to-define, introspective emotions that are fairly universal. Her characters might not be having exactly the same problems you are, but they're not far off. She does it through well-written dialogue that's often very funny, quality casting and Keener, who's starred in all four of Holofcener's films, and who, in many ways, defines the director's body of work.
I think Keener's become a surrogate for Holofcener. It's been almost 15 years since her first feature, Walking and Talking, which was about young people trying to find their way in Manhattan. Lovely and Amazing, which came out five years later, was about trying to stake a claim for place in family, and Friends with Money was about trying to reconcile professional success with personal happiness. But Please Give is, in my mind, the best of them because it deals with all of the above. Sure, Keener's character is a different person, but she could be the same person she played in Walking and Talking, 15 years later.
So, yes, it's tough to label Holofcener's work. But that's OK. All you really need to know is that it's strong enough for a man, but made by a woman.
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