sat 15/05/2021

Please Give | reviews, news & interviews

Please Give

Please Give

Benefaction and blue jeans cohabit in gentle, telling Nicole Holofcener film

Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt talk (antique) shop

Charity begins at home - or maybe not - in Nicole Holofcener's lovely film, Please Give, which joins the superlative Greenberg as one of the beacons in a summer movie line-up given over to sequels, franchises and pitches that should never have got beyond the story board.

Charity begins at home - or maybe not - in Nicole Holofcener's lovely film, Please Give, which joins the superlative Greenberg as one of the beacons in a summer movie line-up given over to sequels, franchises and pitches that should never have got beyond the story board. (Die, Killers, die!) Like a kinder, gentler Woody Allen, and without the peculiar prurience that has crept into Allen's films as he's got older, writer-director Holofcener anatomises middle-class Manhattanites in all their ever-mutable contradictions. This is the sort of film where a mother won't fork out dosh to a teenage daughter who would kill for a pair of jeans but thinks nothing of passing out cash and/ or food to the homeless - at least one of whom, as our heroine Kate discovers to her chagrin, isn't what she takes him to be at all.

Charity begins at home - or maybe not - in Nicole Holofcener's lovely film, Please Give, which joins the superlative Greenberg as one of the beacons in a summer movie line-up given over to sequels, franchises and pitches that should never have got beyond the story board. (Die, Killers, die!) Like a kinder, gentler Woody Allen, and without the peculiar prurience that has crept into Allen's films as he's got older, writer-director Holofcener anatomises middle-class Manhattanites in all their ever-mutable contradictions. This is the sort of film where a mother won't fork out dosh to a teenage daughter who would kill for a pair of jeans but thinks nothing of passing out cash and/ or food to the homeless - at least one of whom, as our heroine Kate discovers to her chagrin, isn't what she takes him to be at all.

Indeed, one of the delights of the movie is its capacity for surprise, which is to say that just as soon as you think you've got the characters' numbers, they do something quirky and unexpected, as people actually behave in life. This much would be unexceptional, you might think, were more movies wired up to existence as it's actually lived. To that end, Please Give doesn't, for instance, build to any sort of stagey climax but reaches a natural stopping point instead, rather like the short stories of those American writers who over time have inhabited much the same lower Manhattan terrain (Greenwich Village and environs) that gets traversed here.

Holofcener is lucky, too, to have as her ongoing muse - this is their fourth collaboration - the consistently unforced presence of two-time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener, whose husky voice and long, gently frizzed hair form crucial components of the off-centre world this director puts on view. This time, Keener plays Kate, mother to the acne-plagued, clothes-minded Abby (Sarah Steele, immensely appealing) and wife to the jowly Alex (Oliver Platt), with whom Kate runs a Tenth Avenue emporium that sells retro mid-century furniture that is generally bought on the cheap following the owner of said item's death.

The prospect of mortality hovers throughout a movie that begins not with Kate but with the quiet, indrawn Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a radiologist whose daily mammogram exams bring her directly into contact with women at their most anxious. (The opening credit sequence is a breasts montage.) Romantically unattached but trying to do something about it (there's a particularly strong blind-date-from-hell sequence), Rebecca gives what down time she has over to caring for crotchety grandmother, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), who happens to be Kate and Alex's next-door neighbour.

The two groups are brought together over a spiky, wonderfully funny birthday meal, during which Andra, newly 91, chafes at all and sundry and Rebecca's older sister, Mary (Amanda Peet), brandishes her tan like some sort of weapon. Mary works in a spa administering facials, which seems right in a film beset with images of rejuvenation and renewal. An early conversation focuses on whether Rebecca will join a work colleague on whom she clearly dotes on a weekend tour of the East Coast's glorious fall foliage, while on the domestic front Kate ponders the renovations that might ensue were she and Alex to buy Andra's apartment once the ceaseless crank is no more.

People want to shed their skin in more ways than one in Please Give, none more so, perhaps, than the glamorously turned-out Mary whose burnished visage couches an unhappy, obsessional nature that leaves her drifting into an affair with Alex that neither of them can really explain. As is often the case when someone plays off or against their looks (one thinks of Tom Cruise in Magnolia), Peet conveys the fallibility behind the beauty and is at her best with Hall in a scene where the two siblings sit side-by-side, drifting casually into a sisterly embrace. You could argue that Hall has already played the part of the woman on the outside looking in when she did Vicky Cristina Barcelona , but few young actresses convey reserves of feeling so well and her dab hand with an American accent was proven long ago.

Besides, the film suggests a fresh lease on life for Rebecca, as for several of the other characters, as well, but not in a way that is sentimental. Just as the autumn leaves spoken of in the movie are at their most beautiful before they fall away for winter only to arrive anew in the spring, Please Give posits goodness, confusion, and guilt as essential parts of getting on with it. There are no grand statements here, just telling gestures. When it's over, you may want to go buy yourself a pair of jeans.

Watch the Please Give trailer

(The opening credit sequence is a breasts montage)

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