Saturday 4 May 2019

Movie Review: Friends With Money (2006)

A drama and comedy about friendship, Friends With Money introduces four interesting women grappling with life's various challenges, but doesn't quite engage them at the required depth.

Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) is poor, single, and works as a maid. She is also timid, does not stand up for herself and starts dating good-for-nothing fitness instructor Mike (Scott Caan) despite all his obvious faults. Meanwhile her three best friends are all married and wealthy.

Christine (Catherine Keeler) is a script writer but unhappy in her marriage and clashing constantly with aloof husband Dave (Jason Isaacs). The perpetually irritable Jane (Frances McDormand) is a successful fashion designer but having trouble dealing with aging. She lashes out at all around her and refuses to wash her hair, while her fashion-conscious husband Aaron (Simon McBurney) is always mistaken for being gay. Franny (Joan Cusack) is independently wealthy and a happy stay at home mom married to Matt (Greg Germann), who tends to overspend on everything.

Christine's marriage disintegrates, and Jane's rage at the world reaches a literal breaking point. But the four women nevertheless do their best to support each other through their emotional ups and downs.

An understated tour of empathy among women, Friends With Money explores the differences that unite and the superficial veneers of happiness hiding misery underneath. Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, the film does focus on first world problems of the white class, and three of the four women enjoy wealth and supportive partners, so their despondency stems at least partially from a fundamental lack of perspective.

Within that context, Olivia is the outsider with her nose glued to the window observing the seemingly perfect life of her rich friends. While it is difficult to swallow Jennifer Aniston as a maid, making every bad decision, unable to launch a career and still stalking an ex-boyfriend, Holofcener's script at least allows Olivia to acknowledge her faults and wear her failures with dignity.

Christine, Jane and Franny are not as well served, and generally remain flat mirrors for Olivia to measure herself. Christine's marriage crumbles into predictable chunks and Jane's inability to deal with being in her forties barely evolves. Franny is most content and endeavors to support her friends, but is also the least defined character. Too much screen time is invested in the ultimately pointless subplot of Aaron fending off perceptions of being gay.

Friends With Money adroitly avoids histrionics as Holofcener stays close to the realms of reality, seeking both humour and pathos within familiar behavior. The Friends With Money ring true, but would have benefitted from a bit more to do.

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