Sundance 2010 Review: PLEASE GIVE
Writer: Nicole Holofcener
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Cast: Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Rebecca Hall, Sarah Steele
Nicole Holofcener (FRIENDS WITH MONEY) has made the message of her latest film also its title, PLEASE GIVE. Despite the blatant quality of the film's title, PLEASE GIVE does not come off like a direct lecture so insistent that you get its message that it becomes more preachy than enlightening; for the most part, the film itself is too sly and intelligent for that (although it does momentarily stumble over its message at the end).
PLEASE GIVE has to do with several characters all connected by one very unpleasant elderly lady, who is played by Ann Morgan Guilbert. The woman's sweet granddaughter Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) takes care of her grandma despite her mean nature. Early in the film we see Rebecca share a tense elevator ride with her grandma's neighbor, Kate (Catherine Keener), and we learn the reason there is a bit of tension is because Kate has already bought the apartment Rebecca's grandmother lives in, and will connect the two units when the woman has passed on. Someone clearly waiting on your grandma to die, regardless of how spiteful the woman is, will make things awkward.
However, Kate doesn't want to have people dislike her (although you are ensured if she genuinely feels bad about the situation) so she invites her neighbor and her family over for dinner, hopefully making Rebecca and the others feel better about their situation. The invitation is accepted and Rebecca, her grandma, and sister Mary (Amanda Peet), who is harshly honest with what she says and addicted to tanning. A lot of uncomfortable laughs come out of watching the dinner- an event that would be brutal to sit through- and it is the most uncomfortable dinner you have never been at. There are many insensitive comments made by the elderly women (and sometimes Mary), while the rest of the dinner guests try to smile through the harshness or respond with a clever remark; which Kate's husband Alex (Oliver Platt, reminding you that you wish the actor made more movies) does well. Kate's daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), also has her own special moments at dinner, embracing Mary's ability to say whatever you want, as they discuss the things that they hate.
PLEASE GIVE is about its characters, as Holofcener gives her creations a believable depth with well constructed internal conflicts and revelations. Kate appears to want to do what is right and help others, always giving homeless people money, and at one point attempts volunteer work; but it is hard to tell if these actions are genuine or if Kate just wants feel good about herself. For most of the film you are not completely sure if Kate is sincere or not; but you're curious and Kate's ambiguity makes her come off like a real person who's unsure how to go about being the best person she can be, and is confused by the clash of her desires and morals.
Holofcener's talent also hits you when she blindsides you with insight about Mary, a character that seemed to be one-tone bitter fun. We get this by a current odd interest of Mary’s that is brought up early on in the film, but later there turns out to be a deeper reason for Mary’s curiosity, and you are reminded that even the seemingly shallow have layers and feeling, but they might just be better at hiding them. Mary is not a standard bitch character, but Holofcener has created a person with bitchy aspects to her personality.
When you try to evaluate the plot of PLEASE GIVE after viewing the film, you realize that the people in the film are the plot. Their actions and conflicts drive the film, as it shows why it is important to just give a shit about others. The "plot" of PLEASE GIVE is satisfying, due to the characters becoming people as we watch them, and also the film's strong writing and performances (all of the actors do well in the film).
The last 30 seconds of the film are a little hokey, as it briefly tries so hard to make sure you feel heavily for its message, that it becomes a bit clumsy. But this moment is the exception and not the rule of the film, and it is not enough to ruin what has been a thoughtful hour and a half.
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