“Please Give” continues a recent trend in the mainstream indie film industry of awkward-moment humor used to characterize flawed, neurotic characters.
The question here is whether “Please Give” stands out from these authentic and sometimes uncomfortable works enough to warrant a recommendation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite make the cut.
Director Nicole Holofcener draws out another fine set of performances, doles out strong female roles and delivers a humanist, non-judgmental tone to the comedy-drama.
Yet to quote one character’s comment on a birthday cake, the movie’s material is a little too “dry.”
The film follows middle-class Manhattan couple Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt), who sell antique furniture purchased from families of the recently deceased. Their next-door neighbor is a wholly unpleasant old woman in her 90s named Andra, with one considerate and caretaking granddaughter (Rebecca Hall) and another who is a distant and blunt-spoken beautician (Amanda Peet).
The couple has been waiting for Andra to pass away so they can start apartment renovations, and only become involved in the family’s life after a discomfiting dinner party.
Although Kate and Alex are the metropolitan middle-class characters and always have an issue of “New York” magazine on their coffee table, the film draws its dark cringe humor from their unexpected idiosyncrasies – her mistaken assumption about a supposedly homeless man, his inappropriate blurting out about Howard Stern’s praises.
Keener is effective as always, and when Kate’s joked-about liberal guilt morphs into a genuine existential crisis, the actress mostly sells it. Hall also surprisingly shines in her second large role following “Vicky Christina Barcelona” as the film’s most obviously likable character.
It would definitely be unfair to call “Please Give” incompetent – considering the all-around effective acting and Holofcener’s assured direction – but it doesn’t tread enough interesting ground to differentiate itself from other independent films, or even Holofcener’s previous movies.
The ending should at least raise a minor controversy for future film discussion. Whether the final scene stands as a meaningful and hard-earned moment of untroubled happiness – or just unnecessary praising of material wish fulfillment – will be up for viewers to decide. Moviegoers should add the director’s similar “Lovely and Amazing” and “Walking and Talking” to their Netflix queues before deciding if Holofcener’s middle-class metropolitan milieu is the right pace for them.
“Please Give” is currently playing at Muvico Centro Ybor 20.