Monday, November 15, 2010

Please Give

Director: Nicole Holofcener
Writer: Nicole Holofcener
Stars: Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt and Rebecca Hall

Please Give (2010) is a very odd film indeed. It’s one of those films you won’t pay the admission price to see it in a multiplex, yet would happily sit in front of it when it plays on TV. It’s like reading a fantastic story on a random magazine you picked up at the station before boarding the train for a short trip. You are surprised how good it is.

It’s a New York film to the bones. The outdoor scenes will remind you of Sex and the City, the series, not the films. But it’s quite an antithesis. Unlike the fashion magazine look of SATC, the New York of ‘Please Give’ is about real lives, real people and real issue, which may not be life-changing, but complicated nonetheless.

Plotwise there’s no plot in ‘Please Give.’ It introduces us to a bunch of people, two families — two sisters and their grandmother, and the grandmother’s neighbours, the parents and a 15-year-old daughter Abby — and invites us to see their lives as their live it, and boy, is it interesting! Fact can be stranger than fiction.

The film understands New York and understands the human heart. Here lies the beauty of the film, and how it takes us through the array of scenes akin to comedy of manners.

The plot from Wikipedia: Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are a couple living in a New York City apartment with their teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele). Kate and Alex own a furniture store specializing in used modern furniture, which they buy at estate sales. They have bought the apartment adjacent to theirs, but its occupant, the elderly and cranky Andra (Ann Guilbert), will stay in it until she dies. Andra has two granddaughters, the dutiful and generous Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a breast cancer radiology technician, and the self-centered Mary (Amanda Peet), a cosmetologist. Kate is conflicted about the profits she makes from furniture sellers who do not know the value of what they are selling; by the contrast between homeless people in her neighborhood and her own comfortable life; and by the fact that her family will only be able to expand their apartment when Andra dies. She tries, unsuccessfully, to assuage her guilt through volunteer jobs (which leave her weeping) and donations to homeless individuals (which sometimes backfire).

What I like about the film is that it loves its characters so much that it lets them be. The film does not forces the characters to grow up, or change or find their destination, happiness. We don’t know if Rebecca will get married to her boyfriend, if Mary will get over her lover. Life goes on, and things does not change overnight. I also admire the screenwriter/ director for not falling into the temptation of following the beaten track. There is an extra-marital affair track in the middle of the film, which plays quite logically, and it could have been stretched to melodramatic effect. What if Abby comes home from the beauty parlour and tells her mother about her father visiting Mary. It would be a blow to already fragile Kate. I was dreading that this will happen eventually. But it did not. That’s because, the film loves Kate, and does not want her suffer more than she has already. And yes, what she feels for the homeless and about her own privilege status is real. But the film does not really try to understand her and find a solution, but lets her be. There is no resolution, and this is probably the best part of the film.

This is how we live. And we are not saints.

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