Movies: The Lady Auteur

nicole holofcener article Movies: The Lady AuteurApril may be the cruelest month for some, but in Hollywood-land, it’s the start of the big-big blockbuster season that will keep theaters stocked up on exploding 3-D robots, superheroes and star-studded comedies through September. But on April 30, nestled amid clashing titans and ass-kicking comic-book characters, comes a much smaller movie that would be a shame to overlook—the warm, witty and utterly wonderful new film Please Give, from writer-director Nicole Holofcener. “I keep seeing that Date Night poster. That thing is literally everywhere,” Ms. Holofcener said with a laugh (and a sigh) last week via telephone about Tina Fey and Steve Carell’s big, flashy comedy. “My kids and I counted, and we saw 14 of them just on the way to school. I was saying to my kid, ‘I want one poster. Just one!’”

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Please Give is the fourth feature by Ms. Holofcener, who turned 50 last week, and whose career as “the West Coast Woody Allen” started with 1996’s Walking and Talking, and continued with 2001’s Lovely and Amazing and 2006’s Friends With Money. These low-budget films are all recognizably Holofcener, thanks to the very human (some could say neurotic) characters, pitch-perfect dialogue and occasionally cringe-worthy situations. Oh, they also all star Catherine Keener, who pops up again in Please Give as Kate, who, along with her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), wants to expand her Manhattan apartment. They buy the place next door but have to wait for the cranky old lady (a.k.a. the current tenant) to die, becoming inexplicably entwined with her granddaughters (played by Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall) in the process. It’s a very funny movie that manages to deal with love, death, fidelity, liberal guilt, New Yorkers’ insane obsession with leaf peeping and, of course, real estate.

“Some people want to be able to know their neighbors, and some people make an effort not to so they don’t get stuck in conversation in the elevator,” said Ms. Holofcener, who grew up on the Upper West Side as a kid and then again through most of her 20s and early 30s (she now lives full time in L.A. with her twin 12-year-old sons). “We had such a low budget that it was difficult to do anything anywhere,” she said of shooting here in the city. “We had one person who wouldn’t move out of the center of the shot one day because of some crazy idea that we didn’t have a permit. Amanda Peet and I went over and confronted her, and Amanda said, ‘I’m the actress in the this movie and I’d really like to get this shot.’ And the woman was like, ‘Who gives a shit? Fuck you!’” Ms. Holofcener laughed. “I guess it’s a good story now that it’s over.”

The Observer wondered how it felt as a female director to watch Kathryn Bigelow make history when she won the Oscar this year. “It wasn’t like watching Obama win the presidency,” she said. “I didn’t cry or anything, but it was exciting. Maybe because it was so overdue, I didn’t feel that grateful. It’s stupid that it’s such a big deal, you know? It was a really good movie, and she deserved it, and this is a great step forward and all, but we still have a long way to go.”

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svilkomerson@observer.com