Nicole Holofcener is a filmmaker who is forever fascinated by the unexpectedly funny and often simultaneously melancholic flaws that exist within humanity. Moreover, she possesses a preference for dissecting flaws that appear in various incarnations within a single family (Lovely and Amazing) or a forged family of four girlfriends (Friends With Money).
And to this end, it's only fitting that her latest and perhaps strongest work to date Please Give opens with a montage of mammograms being given by diligent technician Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) since they tackle potential flaws either genetic or lifestyle based that can impact the rest of one's existence on Earth in causing change, realizations, or even possibly death.
Yet, as morose as it sounds, the ridiculousness of the opening sequence is underscored by unexpected humor that perfectly sets up the unique point-of-view of Holofcener in presenting the sweet with the sour and the funny with the tragic as if they're all one in the same in such an approach that has become synonymous with her name.
Please Give centers on two very different families with interests and geography linking both throughout with the dutiful granddaughter Rebecca proving to be the family's rock, as she takes care of both her extraordinarily blunt and difficult grandmother Andra (Ann Guilbert) and likewise balances out her self-involved, beautiful but materialistic older sister Mary (a terrifically funny Amanda Peet).
Living next door to Andra and therefore serving as Rebecca and Mary's sometime neighbors when they drop in are the well-to-do antique business owners Kate (Catherine Keener) and her husband Alex (Oliver Platt). In addition to planning their expansion into Andra's apartment once she passes away, the couple spend the rest of their time raiding estate sales and visiting the bereaved to purchase vintage furniture and knick knacks they can then resell at inflated prices in their posh shop.
And although Kate has begun to fear that their acne-plagued, awkward teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) is right when she says that Andra hates them because to her they represent vultures and death, Kate is continually torn between her desire to run the business and the ethics involved that don't seem to affect Alex in the slightest.
In some ways and as opposite as they are in age, relationship or gender, Kate and Alex and Rebecca and Mary serve as mirror characters respectively, which comes through in small bonding moments in this finely crafted film as the two families celebrate Andra's birthday in a night of neuroses and cake.
As they become more involved in the business of one another, Holofcener's film becomes even richer, soaking up the contradictions in character that sets her work apart as more human than some of her contemporaries as the dramedy continues to a slightly protracted if emotionally sound conclusion that you may find yourselves wishing had been rewritten if only a little.
Nonetheless with a standout performance by the scene-stealing Peet and another remarkably real turn by Holfocener's frequent muse Keener whom she's directed since her debut Walking and Talking, Please Give remains one of the director's most fully realized films that pays off on all of her favorite topics from human foibles, culture clashes and rifts between circles of family and friends in a beautifully balanced way. And likewise, with Give, Holofcener has given us one of the most superior American offerings thus far in 2010.
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