Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nicole Holofcener's PLEASE GIVE: yet another terrific ensemble movie -- this time with NYC at its center

Boobs galore -- and Rebecca Hall!

Both men and women moviegoers will have their own reasons for loving PLEASE GIVE. Mine begin with Ms Hall and the fact that writer/director Nicole Holofcener (shown just below) begins her swift, intelligent, funny and moving movie with the fe-
male breast, objec-
tified in a manner we have seldom seen. What fun -- and how bracing to be brought up so short!  But back to Ms Hall (shown at left, two photos down). This top-notch British actress, daughter of theater director Peter Hall, is simply so good: versatile and beautiful and able to transform herself visually from the inside, an ability I believe that few actors possess, or perhaps care to make use of.  (This gift/talent may not be the best means of becoming a "star," as audiences will not immediately recognize
you from role to role.)

Beginning with Starter for Ten (a lovely little movie you really should see, which also remains one of James McAvoy's best), this actress (shown below, at left) has kept impressing and growing, from The Prestige to Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Frost/Nixon to The Red Riding Trilogy and now this.  (Her perfect American accent's pretty amazing, too.)  Mousy, lonely and a little sad, her character, which in this film bears her own name, grounds the movie immediately; we feel for her, big-time. In fact, it is she, a radiology technician (that's how we see all those breasts) whom we first meet, and who, via her halting but insistent manner, connects us emotionally to the film and its many other characters.

These includes Rebecca's sister Mary (Amanda Peet, shown above, right), who gives facials for a living, and their angry and depressed grandmother Andra (Ann Guilbert); their next-door neighbors, a mom (Holofcener regular Catherine Keener, below left) and dad (Oliver Platt, below, right) who are estate sale mavens (they buy home furnishings to resell at a handy profit) and their chubby, pimply and still adorable teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele, two photos, below).  From this odd mix, the movie-maker creates jarring, humorous, sad but always recognizable New York City life.

Also on hand are Lois Smith, as the subject of one of Rebecca's breast x-rays, and her grandson, played by Thomas Ian Nicholas.  Every one, as you might expect in a cast this well-chosen, is first-rate. Each plays well within the ensemble but manages to stand out by creating a rich, full character.  As terrific as they are all, it is likely that Ms Guilbert, as Grandma (shown at bottom) will prove most memorable -- because she's so unusually dark and sad.

How wonderful to watch a writer/director continue to grow, as Ms Holofcener keeps doing.  Please Give is her best yet, as it tackles everything from an approaching death to the need (from guilt, of course, but also from a genuine, heartfelt place) to give to others less fortunate.  Still, there are all sorts of ways to give -- and to be "less fortunate," as daughter Abby is happy to point out.  Yes, there's a taste of Woody Allen here, but the tone is warmer and the one-liners, thankfully, much less frequent.

"Doing the right thing" often surfaces in the filmmaker's work, as I think it does in the mind of many of us, and Holofcener understands the complexity of this task, finding all the grit, pain and humor in trying to get it right.  Her dialog is great: specific, real and about so many different things.  And the little dance these characters do as they move around each other is quite sophisticated (not on their part but that of the filmmaker).  The view of life shown here is as wise in its way as, say, that of Max Ophuls -- but far more off-the-cuff and less stylish.

The movie will certainly do well, I should think, in urban locations (and L.A., of course), but I'd love it if it also drew some audiences in the hinterlands.  It would be nice for them to see us New Yorkers in our -- neurotic, yes, but also -- "everyday and accessible" mode.

Please Give, from Sony Pictures Classics, begins its nationwide limited-release rollout on Friday, April 30.

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