In New York City, a husband and wife butt heads with the granddaughters of the elderly woman who lives in an apartment the couple owns.
This is PLEASE GIVE’s official synopsis, which one would usually feel was an inadequate description, however having seen the film I would say that it’s just about right. PLEASE GIVE doesn’t have a strong story or narrative drive. Instead it meanders through the lives of its characters. Catherine Keener’s Kate is, by most standards, a fortunate person. She is middle class, married to Alex (Oliver Platt) and has a teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) as well a running a successful business selling second-hand furniture mostly bought from deceased estates. However she feels guilt about her good fortune and compulsively gives money to the homeless, much to her child’s disgust.
They live next door to an elderly woman Andra (Ann Guilbert) who is looked after by her granddaughters, the selfless Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the tightly-wound Mary (Amanda Peet). Rebecca works as a radiologist’s assistant and Mary is a skin-care specialist. The granddaughters live together and have a relationship of low-level sibling bickering.
Kate and her husband own Andra’s flat and this is the cause of much awkwardness. All concerned are very aware that the couple are waiting for the old woman to die so they can knock through the walls and expand their apartment. There are a couple of further points that make up the loose plot of the film, but these are small events with no serious effect on the lives of these New Yorkers whose lives have somehow bumped together.
Director Nicole Holofcener’s PLEASE GIVE is like her LOVELY AND AMAZING and FRIENDS WITH MONEY, a character-based tale with fine performances from excellent actors. And if that sounds like I’m damning this film with faint praise, then you would be correct.
I can’t fault the excellence and believability of the characters and the moments they reveal here. It felt very truthful, but for this reviewer not engaging. Why was Kate so thoroughly miserable? She seems to be having an existential crisis, but her life is blessed. Nothing is revealed that helps an audience see below the surface of her distress. This also has the unfortunate side effect of making Kate the least interesting of the entire ensemble. Keener has so much to offer in the right role that this one doesn’t seem to make the best use of her considerable talents.
At times, PLEASE GIVE reminded me of another recent American indie, Noah Baumbach’s GREENBERG which was also a small film composed of small moments. Both movies have a wayward, slice-of-life feel, but I found GREENBERG the more satisfying experience.
Overall, I can’t recommend PLEASE GIVE because I believe it simply doesn’t say enough and is therefore forgettable, however there are reports that some Holofcener fans are calling this film her strongest to date. Which prompts me to end with a quote from “Honest Abe” Lincoln, “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”
USA | 90 mins | (5/10)