Friend without money Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) was until recently a schoolteacher, but this passive, pretty enigma has quit to toil as a cleaner and, in her spare time, phone-stalk her ex. Olivia’s pot-clouded impasse is the source of some dismay to her affluent friends: Franny (Joan Cusack), who has the cushion of a content married life and a huge inheritance; Jane (Frances McDormand), a fashion designer so depressed that she’s stopped washing her hair; and Christine (Catherine Keener), mired in a sexless, sniping marriage to David (Jason Isaacs), who also happens to be her writing partner.
As a creator of characters, Holofcener has strong instincts for emblematic situations and telling habits, yet she takes a reticent approach to development – she observes her subjects closely, but doesn’t necessarily interpret. Olivia’s meekness and masochism are all the more troubling for remaining somewhat unsolved, and the film’s most endearing character also happens to be the most ambiguous – that would be Jane’s sweet and patient husband, Aaron (Simon McBurney in a perfectly judged performance), a charming English clotheshorse whom everyone assumes to be gay.
Attuned to the drift and unexpected punch of everyday conversation, ‘Friends with Money’ tends to resist epiphany and climactic confrontation in favour of tiny increments of personal change and private realisation; if a character does snap, you can feel the tremors rattling her well-ordered little world. One quibble: there’s a late-breaking development in the film that left this viewer slightly perturbed; without giving anything away, it’s implied that a bittersweet ending would have been mostly bitter without the sweetener of cold, hard cash. Holofcener wants to give her audience the Jane Austen fairytale and the messy reality of real relationships in one package, and that’s her deftly executed prerogative. All the same, though, it would be a terrific change if Hollywood, or even just Indiewood, could start giving the permanent middling classes a little more romance to call their own. Even now, you can’t buy it.