Thursday, June 17, 2010
Dir. Nicole Holofcener
Starring Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Sarah Steele, Thomas Ian Nicholas
Nicole Holofcener has been making movies for the last 14 years, yet she's hardly a household name. A quick visit from someone unfamiliar with her work to her IMDB page reveals a pretty small body of work. None of this gives justice to this filmmaker that has shown such a wonderful gift at understanding human relationships. Her latest film is another example of this gift and indirectly is a damning indictment of the way mainstream Hollywood treats female characters.
Catherine Keener (who has appeared in all of Holofcener's films) leads the ensemble as Kate, a fairly wealthy woman who, with her husband Alex (Oliver Platt), runs an antique furniture store. They stock the store with furniture they buy from relatives of those who have recently passed away. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) is a single woman who spends almost all of her free time taking care of her 90 year old grandmother Andra. The two stories are intertwined because Andra lives next door to Kate and Alex, who are waiting for their chance to expand their apartment.
There is such a wonderful natural quality to the way events play out in Holofcener's films and Please Give is no different. There are situations that happens here which would turn into huge melodramatic moments in most films, yet they are handled with subtlety and realism. Consider a conversation late in the movie that takes place between Alex and his daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), which would include a devastating revelation in most films, yet nothing is completely spelled out and both characters come to an understanding of what has happened and what needs to happen moving forward.
Holofcener also does a great job of accurately portraying relationships. Rebecca finally meets a nice guy in Eugene (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and they begin dating. What I loved about this relationship is how awkward it looks. Eugene is quite a bit shorter than her and when they first kiss, it feels as if they are stumbling around in the darkness. Yet it feels more real and comes across as more emotionally rewarding because of this awkwardness. This is a casting decision that would never pass the smell test of a big studio producer, yet it is a key example of the authenticity that the director brings to her films.
However, this being a Nicole Holofcener film, whether or not the female characters find a man is largely a secondary aspect to the story. The central connection in the film is actually between Kate and Rebecca, two people who seem to have nothing in common. The connection between these two is not based on big dramatic moments, but through the natural course of events that bring them to a better emotional understanding of one another. The resolution is actually a simple, shared glance late in the film. It's a complex development between the characters and it could have only been pulled off with the two outstanding performances by Catherine Keener (as expected) and Rebecca Hall (quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses).
There's plenty here for big Hollywood to learn from. Not every bad thing that happens needs to turn into a major plot point and end with characters screaming at one another. New relationships should be awkward and uncertain, and the couple need not always look like they just walked out of a screen test. Women can be interesting characters apart from whether or not they have found a man. It's unfortunate that we have to wait so long between Nicole Holofcener films, but if she keeps delivering films like Please Give (which is probably her best yet), then it's worth the wait.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 2:07 AM