Thursday 2 May 2019

Movie Review: Please Give (2010)

A quirky comedy and drama, Please Give offers low key but astute commentary about family relationships, guilt and death.

In New York City, Kate (Catherine Keener) and her husband Alex (Oliver Platt) run a mid-century furniture resale business. They buy their stock from the apartments of recently deceased elderly people, taking advantage of grown children during their moment of grief. Kate is wracked by guilt, and hands money to every seemingly homeless person. She is also having trouble communicating with her teenaged daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), who is suffering from a bad skin condition.

Kate and Alex have purchased the next-door apartment occupied by crusty ninety-two year old Andra (Ann Guilbert), with plans to expand into her unit when the old woman dies. Andra is cared for by her kind granddaughter Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a mammogram technician who lives with her more contemptuous sister Mary (Amanda Peet), a skin care therapist. The lives of Alex, Kate and Abby start to intertwine with Rebecca and Mary in unexpected ways.

Death as an avenue for profit is always a queasy topic rich with possibilities. Writer and director Nicole Holofcener finds the damp patches of guilt in this well-constructed and character-rich story, and Please Give is filled with calibrated moments of pleasure along with honest, funny, awkward and sometimes painful human contact.

To assuage her guilt Kate is a one-woman charity, distributing bills to New York's homeless population and then some. Except Kate is much less generous with her daughter Abby, who is desperate for a new pair of jeans, and Holofcener elegantly folds in the unintended consequences of charity that begins outside the home.

Abby's teenage traumas are relatively typical for a white privileged child of wealthy parents, but her angst is also the spark that forges connections with the sister pair of Rebecca and Mary. Her skin condition brings the opportunistic Mary into focus, while the considerate Rebecca offers Abby a comforting bond over dog walking.

Meanwhile the husband and wife team of Kate and Alex appear to be friends and business partners, but perhaps they lost the passion in the gap between his dismissive iciness and her remorseful fretting. Suddenly Alex is flirting with Mary, who is happy to embark on another ill-considered adventure. Meanwhile, Kate's exploration of volunteer opportunities at charity organizations is all kinds of wrong funny.

Please Give demands strong performances to work, and the cast delivers. Rebecca emerges as the pure heart of the film, and Rebecca Hall shines in a role full of selfless commitment. Catherine Keener is also excellent in conveying an exterior of polished professionalism barely concealing gobs of self-loathing.

With the elderly Andra and the grandmother (Lois Smith) of Rebecca's new boyfriend also meddling in the lives of their offspring, Please Give is a candid and clever probe of dynamics between four generations of women.

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