Please Give

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing, Friends With Money) has been celebrated—or pigeon-holed—as a feminist filmmaker who examines the costs of beauty, friendship and love. But her large talents should encompass everyone, and with Please Give, her best yet, she’s made what looks like an ensemble picture about vanity and age, but it’s really about the value of people. In its casual, disarming way, it’s as deep and as grand a film as you’ll find in the multiplex this year and demands to break out of the gender ghetto.

Catherine Keener stars as a vintage furniture scout and salesman who runs a store with husband Oliver Platt. They scour the homes of the dead and sell their old tables and chairs for thousands to Manhattanites with good taste. They aren’t vampires—they’re bourgeoisie—but when they purchase the apartment of the 91-year-old crank (a wonderfully crass Ann Morgan Guillbert) next door, they guiltily realize they’ve just invested in her death. It’s a delicate situation, one that Guillbert’s granddaughter Rebecca Hall finds ghastly while other granddaughter Amanda Peet would rather cut the tension with a machete by asking renovation questions when Keener invites the family over for dinner.

At stake are two warring values: Peet and Platt believe in scorching truth (they laud themselves as honest) while Keener and Hall fall back on kind politesse, even if they have to bite their tongues and fake it. The film is a jumble of scales trying to balance values that will never align. Sure, we think, we’d never value old objects more than old people. We’re above the moral code. But that’s Holofcener’s smart set-up, and the meaner and less sympathetic Guillbert gets, the less sure we are of our own convictions. Between the broad strokes, the film is flush with detail: Peet and Platt’s miserable affair, which only serves to sate their low opinions of themselves; Hall’s slow romance with a very short man; Keener’s community service that exposes her well-meaning but ignorant privilege. If Holofcener made war films instead of films about our warring conscience, she’d have been the first female Best Picture winner. But maybe she can be the second.

Click here for Please Give in the IE Weekly

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