May 30, 2010

Please Give (05/30/10)

Lettergrade: B

My wife wanted to see this new movie from Nicole Holofcener, who previously made Lovely & Amazing and Walking And Talking. She's one of her favorite directors, but only makes a picture every 5 years or so and when she does, so says my wife, they've consistently been really good. Please Give is not one I'd probably see if left on my own, but I found the light drama, which centers on a group of New Yorkers wrestling with liberal guilt in one form or another, to be very smartly written and thought-provoking.

Catherine Keener and the hideous, hairy man-blob that is Oliver Platt operate a resale shop that harvests vintage furniture from the homes of the recently deceased, and then sells to semi-suspecting yuppies at obscenely marked-up prices. They've bought two adjacent apartments in the same building: One that they live in, and another that is occupied by a very old lady. Although they're perfectly pleasant to her in the hallway, they ghoulishly confer about how they can't wait for her to die so they can knock down the walls and get to work on their larger living room and master bathroom. The elderly neighbor has two hot granddaughters (played by the ever-tan Amanda Peet and the lovely Rebecca Hall), who are acutely aware of the circling wolves, and make little effort to hide their hostility when passing in the halls or sharing an elevator. Platt and Keener invite them all over to dinner early on in the movie in an attempt to make peace and more importantly to make themselves feel better about the situation, and setting the characters primary interaction throughout the rest of the story in motion.

The movie is a very interesting portrait of selfishness in its many forms and how people deal with it (or not). Keener's character aggressively gives leftovers and money to people on the street who appear homeless, while at the same time refusing a to spend dime more than she absolutely has to on her daughter. Rebecca Hall feels a sense of obligation and gratitude to her hostile grandmother to the extent that she's reluctant to do things for herself that would probably make her much happier. Skin therapist Amanda Peet, by contrast, is unrepentantly self-centered: one of the only characters in the movie who doesn't try to cover up her nasty behavior with empty deeds and gestures.

I wouldn't call it a great movie, really, but I certainly enjoyed it, and it held my attention and stimulated my intellect, which I'm fairly certainly The Prince Of Persia would not have done this weekend. Viewers beware, however: This film contains graphic scenes of extreme Oliver Platt shirtlessness. I would advise not eating for at least two hours before watching.

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