‘Please Give’? No Thanks

zz09b411f3 Please Give? No ThanksNicole Holofcener has carved a modest success out of film festival fare like Lovely and Amazing, but her talent for sketchy, short-story formats about a multitude of stressed-out women that appeal largely to female audiences is not matched by much commercial box office glory. Her latest is the slow-simmering Please Give, a muted Manhattan melody in a minor key about women plagued with self-doubt; it seems destined for the doldrums. The goal is to show the quintessential New York conflicts of having too much and too little, struggling to make ends meet and justifying both luck and failure while getting through another daunting New York day. Alas, the result is so slow, barren and languorous that it does not seem to have a pulse.

I found so little dramatic content in Please Give that I kept dozing off, but basically it centers on Kate and Alex (Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt), a miserable married couple who make a living buying things left behind by dead people for their used-furniture and home-accessories shop. Business is so good that they’ve managed to buy the apartment of the old lady who lives next door, but can’t annex or renovate until the 90-year-old occupant kicks the bucket. Things get more complex when the woman’s two diametrically different granddaughters arrive. Mary (Amanda Peet) is conceited, self-centered and beautiful; she gives facials, nukes her food and hangs out in tanning salons. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) is a nice, withdrawn and homely nurse who specializes in befriending women with breast cancer. An ongoing thread in Ms. Holofcener’s films is her lack of interest in fleshing out characters until they offer something of take-home value to the audience. She’s more concerned with character behavior than character development, and her plots are no more than cinematic pap smears.

Most of the screen time is devoted to Ms. Keener’s Kate, one of those obnoxious do-gooders who feel so guilty about affluence that they think they are helping out the less fortunate while only annoying and insulting them. In one scene, she gives a Chanel lipstick to a homeless vagrant who has never even seen a bar of soap. In another, she sees a man peering through the glass window of a trendy restaurant and offers him a cardboard container of leftover takeout food. The man turns out to be a customer, waiting for a table. I suppose there’s an ironic wit in some of this, but mostly it’s just irritating. Value conflicts, marital betrayal, teenage petulance and anxiety, middle-aged insecurity and the self-imposed angst of the privileged class could make for interesting investigative reporting. But Please Give is more about real estate. It’s as morally vacuous as its title.

No movie that begins with close camera angles of protuberances in sagging female mammary glands and stars Oliver Platt, fat and hairy and talking to his wife’s feet, can be all good. But at a time when every penny counts, where do they come up with the money to finance a movie this boring?

rreed@observer.com

Running time: 90 minutes
Written and directed by: Nicole Holofcener
Starring:  Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Rebecca Hall

1 Eyeball out of 4

eyeball Please Give? No Thanks