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In Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give, blog favorite Catherine Keener stars as the owner of a furniture shop, perhaps a little uneasy about procuring her goods from recently deceased fellow New Yorkers (“ambulance chaser” as one prospective customer calls her) and seemingly on a constant, if quiet, quest to give back.  Her husband is Oliver Platt,  who co-owns the store with her, is easygoing about all aspects of life.  They’ve got a daughter (Sarah Steele) and bought the apartment next to theirs from elderly current tenant Ann Guilbert, for whom they patiently (and morbidly) wait to pass away so they can knock down the wall between the two.  Guilbert has two granddaughters, Rebecca Hall (another blog favorite) a nurse who comes by every day to take care of her grandma and the wildly insensitive Amanda Peet.

That’s the basic setup, the rest generally follows the lines of a typical New York indie study of characters and relationships (though, to be fair, it does have a discernible plot, which is more than I can say for a few movies in the running for Spirit awards).  I realize I’m doing a horrible job selling this movie, but Holofcener’s sparkling dialogue is among the best I’ve heard all year.  I found myself laughing aloud multiple times and smiling throughout the film.  And while I’m not one who particularly cares if characters or lines seem “real” or not, I’m fairly certain this movie will satisfy those looking for that sort of reality from their movies.  From the way Oliver Platt tries to cover up the awkwardness with Hall and Peet about his incentive to have their grandmother die to the conversation Hall and Steele have about dog poop, Holofcener mines the real world to create some very funny moments.

Not everything works.  The ending feels…if not rushed, then not quite in sync with the rest of the movie.  I’m not sure Oliver Platt’s subplot reaches a resolution I’m comfortable with.  Actually, really, the problem with setting up so many characters, I think, that it is hard to find adequate resolutions to all the subplots.  Instead, the film just kinda stops at a certain point.  Which is fine, but not satisfying.

The film won the Independent Spirit award, honoring the director, casting director and cast in what amounts to a best ensemble award.  And I think that’s exactly right.  Each character portrayed by the main group is integral to the story and each actor fills her role admirably.  It is also up for Best Screenplay.  I’m still working my way through the nominees, but Please Give is certainly the front-runner.  If it can make me laugh at short jokes at the expense of Thomas Ian Nicholas (let’s be honest, I would have killed for a shot to draft Henry Rowengartner in a fantasy league), it must be doing something right.

December 2010
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