*Please Give (R)
Kimball's Peak Three
Ache for the world, and the world aches with you. Or, more precisely, gets irritated by your relentless compassion, which is the case in Nicole Holofcener's fourth feature, Please Give.
Catherine Keener plays Kate, the successful co-owner of a New York City vintage-furniture store. She and her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), acquire their inventory from estates, buying unwanted wares of the recently deceased and selling them at markup. (Source of Shame No. 1.) The couple, with plans to renovate, has also purchased the apartment adjacent to their own, which is currently occupied by an elderly lady (Ann Guilbert); whenever Kate tries to be neighborly with the woman's granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet), she imagines her small talk is automatically interpreted as, "So, is she dead yet?" (Source of Shame No. 2.)
And then there are the homeless, the kids with special needs, shelters full of kittens, puppies and ferrets... and Kate bleeds for them all. Her upper-class guilt compels her to hand out money or food virtually every time she walks down her tony street — acts that are occasionally intercepted by her teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), who's pissed that she's been denied a pair of $200 jeans, or by Alex, who questions Kate's sanity when she offers someone restaurant leftovers. ("He looked homeless," Kate reasons. Alex replies, "He looked like a black man waiting for a table!")
Like the writer-director's previous films, Please Give blends melancholy and humor with all the knots and complexities of today's realities. Keener, Holofcener's muse, and Hall are somewhat harshly lit to reflect their characters' angst. Rebecca, who works at a mammogram clinic, is a lonely overthinker who borders on being dour. Though she's much easier to like — and, occasionally, believe — than Mary, a polar-opposite esthetician with a tanning-bed glow who doesn't mourn her grandmother's decline, thinks her sister is melodramatic, and flirts with Alex with no regard for anyone's feelings. Abby is also a painfully realistic portrait of an insecure teen, marred literally by acne and emotionally by watching her mother seemingly care more for strangers than she does her own daughter.
The entire cast is wonderfully natural, with Peet hindered only by Mary's tendency toward caricature. (She is involved in another subplot, one in which she stalks the woman her ex is dating, but this attempt to make Mary appear more vulnerable than she outwardly acts is given too short shrift to be effective.) The characters and their varying viewpoints on the haves and have-nots are entertaining as well as thought-provoking, even if Kate's constant turmoil at times gets so absurd it'll make viewers wish they both could pop a Xanax.
But Holofcener isn't aiming to harsh anyone's buzz. Rebecca and Mary's grandmother is played — as grandmothers so often are in movies now — as straight comic relief, though at least she's just a cranky, and not bawdy, old biddy.
Alex does his damnedest to tamp Kate's potentially contagious suffering. At one point, he giggles as he tells Kate about something Howard Stern did on his show that day. She rolls her eyes, spurring him to gently admonish, "Don't wreck my fun."
Likewise, the filmmaker wraps things up with, yes, a bit of a lesson, but it's one that will make you smile.