I think I went into this expecting an intelligent comedy centred on New Yorkers like a Woody Allen film. This does not paint a good picture of New Yorkers. Or people for that matter. However, it is one of the most intelligent films this year with fantastic characters.
Please Give takes place in present-day New York and stars Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt as a couple with a teenage daughter, dealing antiques who live next door to an irritable old woman. They have purchased her apartment and wait for her to die but get involved with the neighbour’s granddaughters, played by Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet. As their lives mix, Keener’s character feels guilty about her lifestyle and finds ways to alleviate the guilt through volunteering and charity. However, this alienates her husband and daughter.
Nicole Holofcener has made a film that has convincing characters with neuroticism and obsessions that feel real and rarely forced. These characters are not one dimensional they are flawed, hurt and hurt each other. It strikes home in the bitchiness and ego the characters evince out of one another.
The film exposes an uncomfortable truth about how people deal with others (especially with the elderly) and the way people can feel like a burden. The many character traits from grouchy young and old people, uncaring directness and insensitivity and the exasperated reactions of those around them worked brilliantly and reminded me of the rude remarks we’re all tempted to say when stressed or defied.
The increasing guilt that Keener’s character feels about being a vulture buying ‘junk’ from the recently deceased owner’s children was interesting instead of irritating.
That said there were parts I didn’t buy. The relationship between Platt and Peet was unconvincing (No offense but what on earth does she see in him except an exercise in self-loathing?) whilst the liberal hand-wringing that Keener’s character goes through felt forced. Some dialogue felt false – “tubes of potential danger…” What? Who says that apart from someone deliberately straining for comedy? Awkward subplots aside, what really worked was the characterisation.
Everybody gives great performances but the relationships that worked really well centred around the teenage daughter portrayed by Sarah Steele. Her theatrics, boundary pushing and bitterness that stems from natural adolescent feeling of imperfection made her feel like a real adolescent – concerned about her appearance, given to emotional back-biting with her mother in particular.
Keener and Platt also give great performances keeping the viewers attention whilst Rebecca Hall’s angelic performance has cemented her place amongst a collective of women who should be VERY worried as I increasingly feel like stalking them might be a much more interesting lifestyle than the one I currently lead. Her beauty and talent are an inspiration. Rest assured I haven’t gone over the edge… yet.
Now I have gone over the edge with this haiku dedicated to Rebecca Hall:
I adore this girl
Rebecca Hall, English saint
Her accent was great.