Please Give (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Please Give (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEPlease Give is one of the only movies released this year that is nearly devoid of obvious payoffs.  We've seen relationships crumble, spouses cheat, and exes find ways of comping with their loss but not in nearly as subtle a way as it is in this film.  Nicole Holofcener has made a career of writing movies that feature nuanced portraits of complicated people, and this fits alongside her other films nicely.

A bit of warning though, and to assume the role of critic (as it is my job), it took about thirty minutes for the film to really start clicking with me.  There is hardly any plot in Please Give, and is more concerned with the way the characters interact with each other and how they really feel.  Now, they don't feel in an overdramatic, theatrical sense.  But they feel in the private moments, the little things that we try to hide when no one is looking, and the shoulders we hope are there when things start to crack.

It takes a while to set the stage for Holofcener's subtle observation.  Kate (Catherine Keener) and her husband Alex (Oliver Platt) run a store that sells overpriced furniture to the kind of people that take one look at a set of shelves and say "Those are so bad they’re almost great."  They have a profession that, in lesser hands, would leave these characters as opportunistic monsters.  But they have real feelings, and the realities of their job weigh differently on each of them.

It's not the best sign in the world when you start picturing the dead owners of the furniture using what they used to own.

Running parallel to their story is that of their aging neighbor Andra (Ann Guilbert) and her granddaughters Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet).  Andra's apartment was bought out by Kate and Alex so, like their job, they're waiting for her to die so that they can expand their home into hers.  Rebecca and Mary are over a lot, so they socialize with Kate and Alex, but the tension is obvious.  This is more true for Rebecca (who is a nurse and, in many ways, is the direct opposite of Kate and Alex) than Mary, who has a lot of Andra's meanness and is working through her own issues.

All of these characters get a number of quiet, insightful moments into how they function and what they want.  Please Give is title that fits everyone.  Alex just wants someone to give him some affection, Rebecca some stability, Mary an answer, and then there's Kate, who has the most fascinating evolution over the film.  She starts to field questions from customers about where the furniture comes from, and this pushes her into a bit of a crisis.  So she decides to giving her own time and money to others.

Kate is not donating to charities and volunteering as a way of making a difference in the world.  The film's not afraid of taking a hard look at these selfish reasons for selflessness (a topic I wish more screenwriters would explore), and leads to a heartbreaking moment when Kate is faced with the realities of life working with the mentally handicapped.  "Reality" is all fine and dandy when it's images peering through a glass screen, but living with the reality is something she just can't handle.

Snuggles don't come so easily for these sisters.

The acting is absolutely stellar, but the two standouts are Catherine Keener and Amanda Peet.  Keener has long been one of the smartest actresses in film, and her role as Kate in Please Give is an incredibly juicy part.  A lesser actress might have turned some of her later scenes into offensive messes (especially given their context), but Keener cuts right to the heart of her character and acknowledges her shortcomings.

Amanda Peet is also stellar in the film, and deserving of a little more praise.  She's an amazing actress that has had the misfortune of being in films like The Whole Ten Yards and A Lot Like Love.  When she's let loose to really inhabit her character, she finds the subtle details that really set herself apart from the rest and exhibits a range that many wish they could attain.  Her role in Please Give, while not given nearly as much screen time as Keener's, is every bit as important and Peet makes the most of it.

Holofcener has gotten a lot of praise for writing uncommonly intelligent women.  Now she does do this, and far better than any other screenwriter working right now, but it needs to be noted that her nuanced approach isn't just with women.  She knows how to write people in all our messy and silly glory.  Please Give is a great film, and far better than I was giving those opening moments credit for.

Please Give (2010)

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener.
Starring Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet and Ann Guilbert.


Posted by Andrew

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