24 June 2010

At the movies: Please Give.

Nicole Holofcener is one of the finest directors working today, hewing out a fascinating milieu of intelligent characters dealing with real social issues in a way that is never pedantic or dull. She has a gift for incisive writing and getting great performances out of her actors, as well as perennial star/artistic muse/Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener, who makes this film's Kate into one of the most complex and powerfully human characters in all of cinema this year.

Following a triumphant premiere at Sundance earlier this year, Please Give has emerged as a testament to the joy to be found in smart, funny, and empathetic movies about real life, serving as another feather in Holofcener's cap.

Kate works with her husband, running a store which sells furniture salvaged from estates of the recently-deceased. Business is good, thriving even, but so is an innate sense of guilt that threatens her ability to relate to humanity in general.

Adding to this is her next-door neighbor, a foul-tempered old woman whose imminent death will allow Kate and her family to buy her apartment and expand their home. Kate is a moderately prosperous woman who desperately wants to find a way to give back, yet finds herself stymied by her own schizophrenic relationship with money.

Going back almost fifteen years, all the way to the still-sharp Walking and Talking, Holofcener hasn't made a false move yet. Please Give is another triumph for her, giving years' worth of detail and emotional resonance in just ninety minutes.

The supporting cast is superb, and Amanda Peet, an actress I've been previously ambivalent toward, is nothing less than amazing in this film. And something else I'd not expected- I've never had the experience of a film placing you so precisely in a specific sociopolitical universe as this film manages in its staggering opening credits sequence. Without words, without obvious signposts, it grabs you and the only sensible option is to be swept away.

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