Billy Gray

Please Give

In Movie Reviews on May 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Mortality is very much alive in Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give. Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are antiques dealers who stock their Village store with furniture recovered from the apartments of the recently croaked. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) administers mammograms to patients whose diverse parade of breasts march alongside the opening credits. And no one shuts up about seeing “the leaves” in their autumnal brilliance just a short drive upstate from New York City, a setting Please Give nimbly embodies.

And that’s before you get to the meat of the plot. Kate and Alex daydream about the death of their cantankerous fossil of a neighbor Andra (Ann Guilbert), whose apartment they plan to merge with their own.

Despite their bourgeois goal, Kate and Alex look and act like the quintessential downtown bohemians you can’t avoid on any jaunt below 14th Street. Maybe bohemian isn’t the right word. It’s more that they strive for bohemianism and cling to any notion of it.Kate, the ultimate guilty liberal, condescends to neighborhood bums as she offers them restaurant doggy bags—if only the would-be recipient hadn’t been a casually dressed black man on line outside another restaurant—and $5, then $20 bills. She scolds her daughter Abby (the sympathetic Sarah Steele) for requesting nice clothes by asking “why would I spend $200 on jeans for you when there are 45 homeless people on our street?” Nevermind that she spends as much on her own denim. Kate throws money at the poor, but recoils at the thought of bilking her customers though she knows full well rival dealers do.

Like Kate, the first half of Please Give is exceedingly generous, only with laughs instead of crumpled cash. Holofcener’s dialogue is pointed, articulate and sardonic without being forced or showy. (In other words it’s very New York.) Conversations are caustic with a hint of warmth buried underneath, making her characters more relatable and less repulsive than, for instance, Noah Baumbach’s. Please Give nails the detached but yearning parlance endemic to a certain breed of overeducated and underwhelmed New Yorker.

Amanda Peet plays Rebecca’s sister Mary. Peet, as always, makes for a great cold bitch. And as always you sense there’s a big heart just beneath the acid tongue. (Her beautiful if in this role painfully spray-tanned face doesn’t hurt.) Hall is lovely, even if the movie lays Rebecca’s frumpiness and sanctities on a bit thick. Keener is cool and wry (when isn’t she?), and pulls off Kate’s neediness, hypocrisy and handful of ludicrous crying fits without losing credibility.

Alex is fond of allaying Kate’s fear of his infidelity by saying his crush du jour will “hit the wall.” Please Give hits a bit of a wall itself; the third act lacks the eloquent neurotic buzz of the taut opening. Exposition that is so often perfunctory is this movie’s strength.

But that could be because some of the characters, namely Mary and Alex, but also Kate, become less likeable as their shticks wear thin. Please Give skirts some clichés. An affair stays between participants. And you like Andra even if her scathing asides (the Puerto Rican landlord is a “greaser,” she tells Catherine her cake is dry and explains that she lacks friends because she’s “selective) prompt her own grandchildren to correct someone who calls Andra a good woman.

Though slightly overstretched, Please Give’s smarts, humor and genuine good will for even its less endearing characters makes for a movie that is as sharp and engaging as, and significantly less flawed than, its characters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: