All respect to Greenberg’s likable Greta Gerwig, but isn’t Rebecca Hall the real savior of today’s neurotic with a camera? You’ve already seen her as the more tortured American friend in Vicky Cristina Barcelona; in Nicole Holofcener’s occasionally sharp Please Give, she’s a wan NYC radiologist enduring a bitchy sister (Amanda Peet) and her own timidity. Part of Hall’s commitment comes from dowdying up (if you’ve seen her in Frost/Nixon, you know she can pop), but it’s also a willingness to go elbowy and awkward and let the smile crack through gently. Hall may be closer to Diane Keaton than any other actor of her generation.
Please Give provides Hall’s character, also named Rebecca, an oblique echo in neighbor Kate, played against her natural sass by the great Catherine Keener. Married and professionally partnered with an antiques seller (Platt), Kate is one of those lefty city dwellers embarrassed by her own comfortableness. When the movie meanders, as you know it will, to a straying-husband subplot and Kate’s own quest for purpose, you sigh and wish Holofcener had recognized the two-hander she might have crafted instead: a film about different generations of women surviving in the city.
The drama isn’t quite that, and if its edges are sanded down, that’s only because it wants to be round and inclusive. There’s some dangerously materialistic stuff in here involving a teenage daughter’s quest for designer jeans, but Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing) has never been judgmental. She has real sympathy—characters that might have been brittle, mockable creations in another writer-director’s hands gain resonance here. But the filmmaker also might have very little to say apart from the way guilt enters into life, and then suddenly recedes.—Joshua Rothkopf
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