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|Index||55 reviews in total|
A strong ensemble piece anchored by Catherine Keener, the movie is a
funny and plausible reading of the neuroses of a functional, likable
but in-pain group of working middle class New Yorkers.
What's most positive and enjoyable about the film is the desire of its characters to deal with their problems even when they're not aware they're doing it. But a natural striving to consciousness takes hold because they're all just open enough to admit they don't have all the answers. Watching them on a path that ineluctably carries them to self-awareness, and then each other, is one of the great movie pleasures of this year.
If you view people as case studies in arrested development, then everyone has an issue, and everyone has a story. It's how each deals with his or her issue that makes things interesting in life. And when those issues interrelate to family dynamics, things can get down right convoluted, both as tragic and comic. "Please Give" is such a vehicle. Everyone's issue is not only personal but becomes a family matter at some level. And in the end there is some truth to the concept that blood is thicker than water. Like the movie "Crash" we see how seemingly random personal issues bounce off of the others in our lives, how we react to the consequences given our relative family dynamics, and how we may move on. In the center of this mini-maelstrom is Kate, whose issue of guilt appears to be the nucleus of all matters. Everything seems to spread out from there, and like a galaxy in the distant sky, things coalesce or spin off into directions brilliantly. As usual, whoever makes up the trailer for this tidy package misdirects us completely, which is why I hate trailers.....
"Please Give" is an independent, character drama. What I loved about
this film was the interesting array of characters that it presented.
The characters that were on display for us to watch were all well written, fully-developed, interesting and funny as they each struggled with their moral dilemmas. I found myself being able to relate to all of them in one way or another.
The writer also leaves enough to your imagination so you can decide how much these characters evolved or learned over the course of the film. As you think about them, you find yourself applying these lessons to your own life.
The lack of plot leaves you wanting more because the best movies are usually able to deliver both plot and great characters. Although this is not one of the top echelon of movies, the compelling characters makes this better than most films you'll be able to find today.
Greetings again from the darkness. If not for a friend's
recommendation, I probably would have avoided this one on the basis of
writer/director Nicole Holofcener's last film, Friends with Money. I
found that to be a miserable film filled with miserable people. This
one, on the other hand, is a wonderful film filled with miserable
OK, that is a slight simplification, but it is an extremely well written story that showcases the imperfections of people, social situations and society as a whole. Sometimes it seems the harder we try, the worse things turn out. Such is the life of Catherine Keener's character. She and her husband (Oliver Platt) run a furniture resale shop. She carries this enormous burden around because they stock the store by buying cheap from grandchildren stuck with death's aftermath ... and then reselling to arrogant metrosexual types who live for kitsch and cool. Keener spends her time trying to scrape off the guilt by doling out money and doggie bags to the homeless.
There are many interesting characters in the film and this always adds to the fun. Rebecca Hall (uptight Vicky from Vicky Cristina Barcelona) plays the dutiful granddaughter taking care of her 90 plus year old monster granny played colorfully by Ann Morgan Guilbert. Many will remember Ms. Guilbert as Dick Van Dyke's neighbor in the early 60's sitcom. Her key job in the film is to get closer to dying so that Keener and Platt can take over her apartment and expand - the ultimate dream for a NYC resident. Hall's character is the budded flower - the one just waiting to bloom as soon as the rain hits (granny dies).
The mean-spiritedness of the grandmother is matched only by the vile spewing from Amanda Peet, Hall's less than caring and trustworthy sister who is obsessed with tanning ... and the girl who "stole" her boyfriend. Peet's character often just says what she is thinking which adds dimension to most conversations! There are some terrific scenes and moments and characters in the film, but the best written scene is the dinner party. Keener and Platt invite Hall, Peet and Guilbert over in an guilt-easing attempt to be civil while waiting for Granny to kick the bucket. The scene takes on an entirely new life when Keener/Platt's daughter makes an appearance. Sarah Steele plays Abby as a smart, insightful teenager. Oh, and she is also mad at the world and bitter about her complexion and slightly pudgy build (which makes finding the right jeans a quest). The whole scene is one uncomfortable statement or moment after another. Beautiful to watch.
I could go on and on about the intricacies of the characters and their relationships with each other and outsiders, but what matters is that the film is well written and well executed. It is not some sappy, save the world rom-com, but rather a character study of what goes on in real life and in real moments. Plenty of humor, but also plenty of truth. Amazing how often those two go hand in hand.
I've heard all the clichés about New York, and I have a daughter who
owns an apartment in Hell's Kitchen, so I know what I'm writing about:
If you want a superior cinematic exploration of the contradictions in
one of the world's great cities, then see Please Give.
Upper middle class couple Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) own a shop that sells mid-20th century furniture and kitschy items at prices non-Manhattanites would consider high.
As dramatically interesting is their bid to purchase an adjacent apartment as soon as the elderly grandmother dies. The death watch is the essence of the theme about shameless New Yorkers' acquisitiveness, for which, when it comes to expanding one's own apartment, anything goes. It's especially poignant to watch the liberal, goodhearted Kate give $20 bills to the homeless along the street, volunteer for work that makes her cry, give a valuable vase to a former customer she has taken advantage of, and yet wait for grandma next door to croak.
But that's where writer/director Nicole Holofcener gets it rightNew York is full of life's ironic contradictions: Do good and bad in equal measure, feel bad about the bad, and go on living in one of the most glamorous cities ever crafted for the appetitive and the kind hearted. Holofcener treats the issues, from teen age angst to adult infidelity, with a dramatic restraint that allows the scenes to breathe lightly when a teenager berates her mom in public or a husband cheats on his beloved wife.
Keener is a delight with her nuanced, exemplary life, and Amanda Peet as Mary, the seductive granddaughter of the aging neighbor, is spot on in her self-centered charm. The scene in the elevator with Alex, Kate, and Mary is as uncomfortable as any director could hope.
It's all in a delightful, deconstructed New York minute, or so it seems to a former hyper Easterner now laid-back Mid-Westerner.
Nicole Holofcener is sort of an auteur, and accordingly has a
following: she writes and directs her own films in pretty much her own
way. She's a witty observer of current American customs and she's good
with actors. She gets especially nice performances out of Catherine
Keener, who seems too often relegated by other directors to secondary
roles in their films but whom she features in all four of hers. These
do sometimes have a TV flavor. Holofcener in fact has directed episodes
of "Sex and the City," "Six Feet Under," and other shows. Like a TV
comedy writer, she works in short scenes with moments of pointed
dialogue, a specific observation -- a twisted toe, a misshapen breast,
a nasty crack. Eventually there's a bit of resolution.
In her last film, the 2006 'Friends with Money,' Holofcener manipulated a set of women ("Sex and the City" style) with different marital circumstances and levels of wealth.
This time unity of a sort is provided by a New York apartment building where the main people meet. There is just one (pretty) happily married couple, Alex and Kate (Oliver Platt and Keener), and a very blunt old lady who lives next door, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), whose apartment they have purchased. Alex and Kate have a quarrelsome teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), who's not happy with her complexion or her wardrobe. She wants a pair of jeans that costs two hundred dollars.
The old lady has two granddaughters, one of whom is mean and selfish, the other kindlier and shier.
"Please give" alludes to panhandlers, but also more widely to Kate's guilt. She is self-conscious about the fact that her business with Alex earns good money and that they are financially secure. She longs to do charitable work, though she runs crying from a center for the mentally handicapped, and her generous handouts to the homeless people on the block only seem to anger Abby. Abby thinks the money should go toward her expensive jeans. She isn't a very high minded or even pleasant young lady. But she's gong through a difficult age. So is Andra, who is infirm and in her nineties and probably not going to last long. Andra's older granddaughter Mary (a well-disguised Amanda Peet), an artificially bronzed woman who gives facials at a spa, has no such excuse. Mary is the mean and selfish sister. Her more shy and more dutiful sibling, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), does mammograms; would like a boyfriend; but drops by every day to help out her grumpy old grandmother. Guilt, self-centeredness, death, and adultery are going to rear their heads eventually. Whenever Alex or Kate see Rebecca they feel guilty because Rebecca is trying to make Andra's latter days comfortable, but Alex and Kate are just waiting for her to die so they can enlarge their apartment. This is the kind of thing Mary is only too happy to make clear to Andra, as she gets to do when, out of guilt, Kate invites the grandmother and both granddaughters to dinner. This leads to some of the movie's most deliciously uncomfortable dialogue or, if you see it that way, offensive, nasty talk. For Alex what is said doesn't matter much because he is noticing Mary. She's beautiful.
It's ingenious the way Holofcener weaves her themes in and out of scenes; but she also hits the themes too hard. It's a bit obvious how customers in Kate and Alex's Fifties ("Mid-Century") furniture shop suddenly start asking where they get their merchandise. We know the answer, and Alex answers without guilt: they buy them from the children of dead people. But Kate has to go around looking for a charitable organization to donate time to. What she ends up doing, it seems, is giving expensive jeans to Abby. And if Abby's face still has blemishes, it's brightened by her smile when she receives this bounty. The inevitable happens and Andra dies, resulting in a moment when Rebecca and Mary lie quietly and cuddle. Alex has had a roving eye, but he and Kate are one of Holofcener's happy couples. Much drolly specific and tartly rude dialogue has gone by.
But is that enough? I might tend to agree with Variety's Todd McCarthy, who wrote in a review of 'Lovely and Amazing,' that it was "Engaging, intermittently insightful but too glib to wring full value out of its subject matter." One wishes she would take something a little more seriously, go into a little more depth, scatter around her focus a little less. And if the nasty talk and mean people she chronicles don't really matter, she ought to let them drift free into out-and-out farce; or if they do matter, she ought to give them a harder time.
But that is not her way. What she gives us is a keen ear for dialogue, good roles for women, and an even-handed distribution of likable and despicable characters. 'Please Give' made me laugh out loud, especially in the first half. Then the nastiness, first of Abby, then of Andra, finally of Mary, began to add up and the action stopped being fun. Then as dialogue and incidents came to seem too calculated to be convincing, relationships and outcomes became in turn harder and harder to make any ultimate sense of.
This weakness may have developed, oddly enough, out of a greater focus. In the earliest of Holofcener's films that I've seen, the 2001 'Lovely and Amazing,' there is a collection of intrigues, on the face of them perhaps wildly unconnected, that made it fun to see what was going to happen next. This time there are no surprises, only outcomes that are anticlimactic and sentimental. Cuddling with a bitch sister: somehow that was not what I wanted.
Please Give (2010) was written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. It's
a very New York City kind of movie. The plot revolves around the
purchase of an apartment by two urban professionals. (They're not that
young, so they're not yuppies, although they probably were yuppies in
their day.) At present, they make an apparently excellent living buying
up old "classic" furniture, and reselling it in their storeroom.
Catherine Keener plays Kate, the wife, and Oliver Platt is her husband
The problem with the purchase of the apartment is that it's still occupied by an older woman, and the agreement is that she will live there until she dies. Into the mix come the woman's two granddaughters--Rebecca Hall as Rebecca, the "plain" sister, and Amanda Peet as Mary, the gorgeous sister. (Rebecca Hall is only plain by Hollywood standards, and Amanda Peet is gorgeous by those same standards.)
The film has several plot threads moving forward simultaneously, but the one that interested me the most was Kate's ambivalence about her source of income. Obviously, if you're selling any used furniture--classic or otherwise--you have to buy low and sell high. However, Kate is clearly guilt-ridden about making money because she knows furniture value and the sellers--usually children of a recently deceased parent--don't know these values.
She also feels guilty about street people, and tends to give them ten- or twenty-dollar bills as she walks along the street. She really wants to help disadvantaged people, and checks out a residence for the frail elderly and a day program for developmentally disabled people to see if she can volunteer.
Catherine Keener is an appealing actor, and her character is basically likable. However, as I thought about it, Kate's guilt doesn't lead to any really effective action. Yes, she agonizes about the furniture, but she buys and sells it anyway. And, although her motivation to help the less fortunate is clear, she doesn't actually accept the volunteer positions. She thinks about them, and she cries, but she doesn't really do anything. Still, you can't deny the honesty of her emotions.
This is a movie in which, objectively, nothing truly major happens. However, the characters are changed by the events in the film. They are imperfect and they don't become perfect, but they're interesting and you care about them.
As I wrote at the beginning of the review, this is a very New York City kind of movie. It crackles with realistic NYC atmosphere, and you get a real sense of the city. I could almost feel myself walking along the sidewalk with Kate or Alex.
All in all, I think this is definitely a film worth seeing, and it will work well on DVD. My guess is that opinions about this movie will vary tremendously. I liked it, but others may have equally compelling reasons to dislike it. See it yourself and make your own decision.
'Please Give' wins my vote for Best Movie of 2010 So Far. It's the
funniest film I've seen in years, and it also has depth, originality
It tells the story of two families in middle-class Manhattan, each dealing with a range of issues. One of the most prominent themes is death and dying, but somehow the film is not a downer. Ann Guilbert's portrayal of a cranky 90-year-old is laugh-out-loud funny, as is Sarah Steele's raw and honest depiction of adolescent awkwardness.
Amanda Peet also does stand-out work as a woman on the verge of middle age still struggling to be a pretty girl.
Nicole Holofcener and Catherine Keener mark their fourth collaboration*
with "Please Give", showing the contrasts in a New York couple's life.
Kate (Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) run a furniture shop selling
objects that they have collected at estate sales. In the apartment next
to theirs, elderly Andra (Ann Guilbert, better known as Millie on "The
Dick Van Dyke Show") has moved in with her granddaughters, the
benevolent Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the mean-spirited Mary (Amanda
Peet). As Kate, Alex, and their daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) get to
know Andra, Rebecca and Mary, Kate begins to have doubts about how her
own family lives its life. Kate always makes an effort to give money to
the homeless, while Sarah doesn't seem to appreciate everything that
The movie does a great job with character development. From the start, we immediately know that Andra always says exactly what she thinks, and that Mary doesn't have a care in the world. Specifically, there's the dichotomy in Kate's attitude towards things: she does everything possible to be a good Samaritan, but eagerly awaits Andra's passing. Is Kate really the person who she sees herself as? All in all, I highly recommend "Please Give". It just might help you realize your own flaws. Also starring Kevin Corrigan and Thomas Ian Nichols.
*I actually haven't seen any of Holofcener's other movies. I guess that I'll have to.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Always liked Catherine Keener. There's something very real and
endearing about her. I read in the paper that this was an "Allen-esque
NY tale". which is what made me want to see it. I agree. Like older
Woody Allen movies; this movie was very clever, funny, good characters
and a slice of NY life.
This was the story of a married couple who collects "vintage" furniture from families who are clearing out the apartments of their deceased relatives. They then resell all this stuff in their shop in Manhattan for an elevated price. Naturally there's a certain amount of guilt involved in this sort of "ambulance chasing" practice and the wife/mother (keener) feels a lot of guilt and torn between making a nice living and wanting to give back to poor, homeless or unfortunate people in return possibly to assuage her feelings.
In addition to this they have purchased the apartment of an elderly woman in the building and basically just waiting for HER to kick the bucket so that they can begin renovation on their new, larger apartment when they take it over and break through the walls.
It's a really interesting story about how different people feel about things that they want, how they get it, and what they are ashamed of and how this manifests. Everyone WANTS to be good (that is except Mary, the sister played brilliantly and narcissistically by Amanda Peet)and the old lady, Edra who pretty much stole the movie and every scene she was in! All together a very enjoyable film.
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