June 17, 2010

MOVIES: Please Give (Nicole Holofcener, 2010)

This one just drove me nuts. It's set in an insular little slice of New York society, and I suppose it may be absolutely fascinating to those who come from that world, but as an outsider, I didn't find much to grab on to.

When your protagonists are a pair of well-off antique dealers whose principal preoccupation in life is waiting for the old lady next door to die so they can knock down the wall and expand their own apartment, then you're already starting off with a serious sympathy deficit, and it doesn't help matters much to have those characters played by Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt. They're fine actors, mind you, and I'm usually very happy to see them, but they both have a tendency to come across as rather smug and self-satisfied in a way that only adds to my annoyance with their characters here.

Keener, in particular, is a ghastly person. She's constantly wracked with guilt about all of the poverty and suffering that she sees every day. More precisely, she needs to be seen to be wracked with guilt; there are numerous scenes in the movie of her attempting to help someone, but there is always someone else present when she performs her acts of charity. And, yes, I think that "performs" is precisely the right word; Keener's conscience is less well-developed than is her need to have other people praise her for having a conscience.

Holofcener hasn't give us anyone else who's terribly likable, either. The old lady whose death Keener and Platt so eagerly await is a bitter, hateful woman (nicely played by Ann Guilbert), and the granddaughters who somewhat grudgingly care for her (Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall) aren't much better.

The performances are all fine, I suppose, but the movie's social landscape is so narrow, and I didn't feel that any attempt was made to connect the problems of these shallow people to any broader, more general concerns. As a result, I didn't give a damn about any of their petty problems.

No comments: