Filmmaker Nicole Holofcener has done several movies with Oscar-nominated actress Catherine Keener. Please Give is their latest. Their previous work had a very interesting scene that commented on the fact that some people with money don't feel like being charitable. Their main character here seems to be the opposite. She's a person with money that does feel like being charitable, even in situations where she perhaps shouldn't.
Keener plays Kate, a married, upper-middle-class, New York woman who runs a furniture store. Kate makes a lot of money, and when she's walking down the street and sees a homeless person, she feels the need to give that person something, not because she wants to help that person but because she just feels guilty.
Why does she feel guilty? The reason may be due to the fact that she's a bit of a vulture. Yes, Kate makes a lot of money, but the way she makes her money is by scavenging the dead, literally like a vulture. When people die, Kate goes to the relatives and bargains for the furniture in the deceased's house. Kate then re-sells that furniture at a highly marked-up price.
Usually, she'll wait till the person's buried, but she catches wind that her elderly neighbor is on death's doorstep, so Kate offers to buy the elderly woman's apartment and all her stuff and use it to expand Kate's own apartment.
Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Frost/Nixon) plays Rebecca, the granddaughter of the elderly woman. She along with her sister Mary, played by Amanda Peet, see that Kate is a bit of a vulture who has a problem dealing with reality. Rebecca, on the other hand, deals with reality a little too much.
Rebecca is a medical technician who performs mammograms. The opening of this movie is in fact a montage of mammograms where any illusion one might have had is immediately squished. Coupled with the music, Holofcener crafts one of the most interesting movie openings I've seen all year and perfectly captures the mood of Rebecca's reality.
Yes, Rebecca is a tall, skinny, long and dark-haired, beautiful girl, but she doesn't seem to be all that energetic. She seems drained or perhaps squeezed of juices like a breast during a mammogram. It's probably because when she's not working at the hospital, she's taking care of her grandmother.
Rebecca's reality is that she's constantly having to deal with the reality of illness and death. Unlike her colleagues though, she's not able to appreciate fully the reality of beauty and life. She does appreciate it, but, for her, taking time to stop and admire the changing colors of autumn leaves is something that makes no sense to her.
Meanwhile, Kate tries to volunteer and be more charitable, not with just her money but with her time. Her guilt and sadness consume and paralyze her. Most often, she'll just hand a homeless person some cash and walk away, which allows her to wash over it. Yet, when she tries to volunteer time and actually face the reality, it's too much.
Through Kate's need to give but inability to face certain realities, Holofcener concocts some awkwardly funny moments. Oliver Platt who plays Kate's husband, Alex, as well as Ann Morgan Guilbert (The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Nanny) who plays Rebecca's grandmother Andra are the ones who really steal all the laughs, if only because they do comment on the reality of those awkward moments.
Holofcener's script also calls for Rebecca's sister, Mary, also to be brutally honest and comment on reality almost as harshly as she can. Mary's side story involving a rivalry with a girl that works in a clothing store as well as her skintology job is distracting and ultimately adds nothing to the story.
Three Stars out of Five
Rated R for language, some sexual content and nudity