Director: Nicole Holofcener
In Please Give, the filmmakers treat the Manhattanite characters with a mix of sympathetic understanding and subtle mockery.
The problems they struggle with are personal emptiness and guilt, and the solutions they come up with to cope tend to be unhealthy or backfire. For instance, let's look at Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt), a middle-aged couple who own a furniture store where they sell mid-20th century pieces. The way they find their furniture is by showing up at the homes of people who've recently passed away and buying the furniture at a bargain price; they then resell at thousands of dollars in profit, because their customers think that ugly 1950s end tables are trendy. Recently, they've also purchased the apartment of their cantankerous next-door neighbor, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert); she's over 90, and they're waiting for her to die so that they can break down the walls between the apartments and renovate.
Kate is wracked with guilt over what she sees as a ghoulish way to make money: hovering around people until they pass on so she can acquire their property, and possibly cheating their relatives by neglecting to tell them how much some old, seemingly worthless furniture will sell for.
Not that she's planning to give up her business, or give up her plans to turn part of Andra's apartment into a laundry room. She tries to assuage her near-constant guilt by giving to people, whether it's a homeless person (or a person she thinks is homeless), or volunteering with senior citizens and with people who have Down's Syndrome. Because she's motivated by guilt, her charitable efforts often fall flat. Her heart's somewhat in the right place, but her uneasiness with herself and her excessive pity get in the way of her understanding the people she's trying to help. Her husband, on the other hand, isn't bothered much by guilt over anything, and her teenaged daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), looks at her mother's flailing efforts to help others with exasperation; she's also convinced that a pair of designer jeans will help her feel better about her acne.
As for the old neighbor, Andra, who isn't about to die to make life more convenient for Kate and Alex, she has two granddaughters: Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet), who live together. Of all the characters in the movie, Rebecca is the kindliest and most genuine; there's also an undefinable sadness about her, and she has a tendency to close herself off from other people. Initially, it seems that she lives in Mary's shadow, as Mary is tanned, confident and seemingly unconcerned with anything but herself. But Mary's attitude is mostly a mask for smallness and loss.
The movie asks questions about how people make connections with each other both in spite of and because of their personal issues. The characters can be silly, compassionate, and cruel, sometimes all at once. So many of the joys in the movie are fleeting moments they catch at in passing: a view in a park, an old chair that carries the imagined imprint of a previous owner who enjoyed it before she died. The filmmakers alternate between dissecting the characters and displaying them in a gentle light. They're about as deep as they can be, some more than others. Their lives are stitched together of little moments, rich with personal significance, and what one person considers inconsequential becomes a source of triumph or shame for another.
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