Posted: 01/23/2010



by Paul Fischer

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Please Give
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Screenwriter Nicole Holofcener
Cast Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Sarah Steele, Ann Guilbert
Executive Producer Caroline Jaczko, Stefanie Azpiazu
Producer Anthony Bregman
Cinematographer Yaron Orbach
Editor Robert Frazen
Music Marcelo Zarvos
Costume Designer Ane Crabtree

The joy of watching a Nicole Holofcener film is that her films are the antithesis of self-indulgence. As a writer/director, Holofcener has it down to an art: Be as economical as you can, tell the story you want and do not waste a word or a frame. Clocking in at exactly 90 minutes, her latest work, Please Give, is a lesson for all filmmakers, to tell a story in a solid amount of time instead of following the Hollywood excess model.
In Please Give, Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt), a married couple who run a successful business reselling estate-sale furniture, live in Manhattan with their teenage daughter, Abby. Wanting to expand their two-bedroom apartment, they buy the unit next door, planning to knock the walls out. However, before doing so, they have to wait for the occupant, Andra, a cranky elderly woman, to die. The wait becomes complicated when the family develops relationships with Andra and her two grown granddaughters,[ played by the gorgeous Amanda Peet and the talented Brit actress Rebecca Hall].

Please Give, which Sony Classics will release in the US in May, allows the director, many of whose films have premiered at Sundance, to do what she does best: explore the fragility and foibles of human behaviour pretty much as life is presented to us, with both comedy and tragedy. Her work is full of richly defined characters, often women, going through crises and yet she never succumbs to conventional Hollywood tradition by coming up with clear cut solutions. After all, life is not full of happy endings.

Please Give is a perfect film in that Holofcener balances comedy and drama with such effortless grace. While the film feels so universal, at the same time it creates this kind of Woody Allenesque New York tale. New York is an important setting in this film, and serves as a vital character. Cinematographer Yaron Orbach shoots the city beautifully, enhancing its importance yet doing so in a visually understated way.

Holofcener’s characters come to cinematic life with a collage of wonderful performances. The director brings out the best in the great Catherine Keener, whose emotional range and exquisite sense of subtlety are beautifully realised in yet another sublime performance.
Every facial gesture speaks volumes and Keener once again proves how great she is. Amanda Peet rarely has had the chance to be as raw and brilliant as she is as the film’s often abrasive character, the eldest granddaughter whose emotions have been cut off due to a past tragedy. Here Peet gives a deliciously wry performance, full of deep-seated anger at a life giving facials and harbouring resentment over a failed relationship. She is luminous, funny and richly emotive, and one can hope that this underused actress will benefit from her work in Please Give.

British thesp Rebecca Hall always impresses with her diversity and as the younger of the two granddaughters who spends her days as a mammogram technician, desperately searching for her own identity, Hall is exquisite. Oliver Platt is wonderfully funny and provocative as the husband whose marital infidelity forces him to look at a life not as purposeful as he’d hoped. A wonderful actor at best, he fits in snugly and perfectly with this female ensemble.

Please Give is a jewel of a film, intricate, funny and deeply human, another superb and richly crafted offering from a talented filmmaker.

Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.

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