Published May 06, 2010Perhaps a more useful description of Please Give than the mechanics of an incidental plot is the knowledge of writer/director Nicole Holofcener's filmography, with the titles Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing and the somewhat disappointing Friends With Money under her belt. All featuring Catherine Keener, these comical talking pieces examine human superficialities and insecurities, as tactless, shallow people often harm themselves in the pursuit of external beauty (tanning beds, liposuction), while the rich feel guilty and isolated, using charity as a means to feel validated and superior to others "less fortunate."
Of course, Holofcener doesn't quite reduce her characters to overly simplistic archetypes, often giving them moments of pathos juxtaposed with self-serving monstrosities, showing us flawed humans with issues. Alex and Kate (Oliver Platt and Catherine Keener) own an antique store that acquires its merchandise by exploiting naïve, greedy children of the recently deceased. Even though Kate frequently discusses the morality of such an enterprise, handing out money to homeless people and volunteering with the handicapped to compensate for her guilt, she does so as a justification for her greed.
With home renovation and expansion as a mode of introspective avoidance and capital dominance acting as a common theme in Holofcener's work, Alex and Kate have bought their elderly neighbour's apartment, essentially waiting for her to die so they can expand their bedroom and get an additional bathroom. Again, feeling guilty, they offer to help the 91-year-old Andra (Ann Morgan-Guilbert) when they can, inviting her and her granddaughters Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet) over for birthday festivities.
Please Give isn't only about capitalist guilt, having a theme of feigned compassion for others that we quietly want to exploit in the periphery, along with background celebrity gossip shows. Whether it's waiting for people to die or endlessly scrutinizing others to determine what they lack, these people are self-serving sociopaths kept in check only by social propriety and the judgmental gaze of others.
This is simplifying the breadth of this smart, funny and wholly entertaining character piece somewhat, but it gives an idea of the subtle genius of one of the best films to come along in some time. (Mongrel Media)