Please Give

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Writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s sharp talky comedies can seem neither fish nor fowl: too Woody Allen for chick flick, too earthy for arthouse. It’s true of her latest, ‘Please Give’, which has Catherine Keener as retro furniture dealer Kate, who sells mid-twentieth-century classics out of her Manhattan shop. ‘We buy it from the children of dead people,’ says her husband (Oliver Platt) sarcastically. They’ve also just bought the flat next door from neighbour Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), a cantankerous nonagenarian, with the proviso that she stays put until she dies. Rebecca Hall plays Andra’s grandaughter, a mammogram technician, and the film opens with a bouncy montage of boobs being slapped down on her X-ray machine.

Kate is a character recognisable from Holofcener’s previous films (‘Lovely & Amazing’, ‘Friends with Money’): she’s wracked with the frustrations only money and a New Yorker subscription can buy. She feels like a vulture circling Andra waiting for her to die and she’s guilty about the extortionate mark-ups in her shop. So she dishes out $20 notes to homeless men and in some ruthlessly hilarious scenes takes up volunteering – a group of kids with Down’s syndrome playing basketball reduce her to a pathetic flood of tears.

With smug neediness on this scale, Holofcener’s biggest ally against nauseating self-pity is Keener, her screen alter ego – she’s appeared in all four of her films. Keener does messy contradictions like no other actress; she is also, of course, the 50 year old every woman wants to grow up to be. Holofcener’s writing is unnervingly observant. When it looks like Kate’s husband is chasing after Andra’s other grandaughter (Amanda Peet), another writer would play him as a sleaze or her as a man-eater. Here it’s more banal, a shoddy affair of convenience; realistic, just like those X-rayed boobs.

By: Cath Clarke

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