Feminine shades of middle-aged marital frustration (something of a subgenre these days) are rendered with a keen, knowing brush in Friends with Money, Nicole Holofcener’s solid follow-up to 2001’s cutting Lovely& Amazing. The pretext for her Los Angeles--set script is the subtle clash between finances and camaraderie. But an equal-opportunity malaise quickly sets in; if the film seems content to rest on that old saw about money not buying love, at least it finds diverting ways of saying so, via a dream cast of sympathetic neurotics.
Of a quartet of longtime gal pals, the married “haves” include screenwriter Christine (Keener), increasingly estranged from her partner-husband; successful fashion designer Jane (McDormand), grappling with a bitterness possibly related to her swishy spouse; and house mom Frannie (Cusack), content in her wealth, charitable giving and trainer sessions. (With actors of this caliber, clichd plot turns become arias of grumbly complexity.)
But surprisingly—at least to these eyes—it’s Jennifer Aniston who makes the deepest impression as the unmarried, cash-poor Olivia, straining against her friends’ pitying looks as she cleans toilets for peanuts and scams free makeup samples from department stores. Holofcener has few surprises in store; it’s part of the film’s understated charm that a sense of closure is far from apparent when the credits do roll. But such conceptual modesty may also be tiresome for those expecting the Big Blowout. To Holofcener’s credit, her characters seem way too preoccupied for dramatics. (Opens Fri; see Index for venues.)—Joshua Rothkopf