Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Please Give

David Edelstein of NPR and NY Mag fame recently recommended on CBS's Sunday Morning that we see three independent gems, all directed by women, in place of this summer's blockbusters. He chose Please Give, The Kids are All Right, and Winter's Bone-- films that might suggest there are 'ways of seeing the world that rarely make it to the multiplex'. Love that. This is the sort of recommendation that I crave, take immediately to heart. Thank you, David!

Winter's Bone holds a special appeal to me, as it is set in the OZARK MOUNTAINS(!) where I spent every summer up until, well, this year. While the movie might not be about the glory of southern Missouri, the area really is quite something to see and I'm glad its getting some credit. Just gorgeous, and no one really knows that it is there!

The Kids are All Right immediately reminds me that I probably misuse 'alright' and 'all right' most of the time. (Is 'alright' even a word? Bless you, readers, for following what is surely a grammatically embarrassing blog.) The concept sounds like a cheap sort of 'hey-has-anyone-made-a-movie-yet-about-a-lesbian-couple-and-their-sperm-donor-yet?!'- idea but lucky for us, the execution looks well played. Juliann Moore (swoon) and Sydney Ellen Wade herself (Annette Bening) play the moms, with Mark Ruffalo as the donor. All set somewhere with lots of outdoor dinners, snarky children, and gardening. Good enough for me!

But the film that Alison and I decided to see first, on the Summer Solstice of all evenings (don't worry, I walked home after to enjoy the light) was Please Give. Please Give is the story of two New York City families and the inevitable intersection of lives as neighbors. It's a story about sadness and guilt; of love and understanding. It's my very favorite type of film and this one is exquisite.

It would be quick and easy to label this film 'First World', as is so popular these days. The main source of conflict exists in a sort of privileged guilt, that feeling that we aren't doing enough to 'make the world a better place'-- the urge to give to the homeless, to volunteer, to humble ourselves beyond our little worlds. 'First World Problems' or whatever is going around the Twitters and the Facebooks by those of us who want to come across as clever. I find that sort of categorizing tired and will argue this film's honesty above it's preachiness. Honest emotion is relevant, no matter the circumstance. This is a film about The Human Condition and that, dear friends, is the reason why so many stories can be recycled without getting old.

Catherine Keener plays Kate, a mother and wife who owns a mid-century antiques store with her husband Alex, played by Oliver Platt. Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet play sisters who care for their elderly grandmother in the apartment next door. It's all very New York and very familiar, to begin with.

Nicole Holofcener, the brilliant director (also of Friends With Money, which I adore) tends to exaggerate her selling points by giving each character a sort of hangup-- a shtick, if you will. Kate lives with guilt in her industry and constantly chases a forum to charitably give; Alex doesn't read anymore and unironically admires Howard Stern; Marissa, their teenage daughter, dreams of premium denim and the prefect fitting pair of jeans; Rebecca wants to visit the leaves upstate; and Mary stalks her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend and her too-muscular back.

Each are dealing with the oncoming death of Mary and Rebecca's elderly grandmother, whose apartment has already been purchased by Kate and Alex. It works because the conflicts slowly overlap and entwine before resolving in a way that gives us closure. The film is, after all, a snapshot of five lives, not an epic of any standard.

Keener, Platt, and Hall are all pitch perfect in this film, but the actor whom most critics are slighting in praise is Amanda Peet. Peet plays the older sister (Mary) to Hall's character (Rebecca), once again exaggerated in Holofcener's theme of 'other'. Mary is tan, tan, tan, while Rebecca is pale as can be. Mary works in a spa giving facials to the Upper East Side's glitterati, while her younger sister spends her days as a mammogram technician (opposite ends of societal ideals on female beauty, get it?). Mary is pretty, Rebecca is not. Rebecca is kind, Mary is brutally honest.

The role of Mary could have easily been played flat. It was written that way, to be honest. She is the stereotypical 'pretty girl' who isn't very smart and isn't very nice. But Peet found something in Mary that absolutely humanized her. In addition to her out-of-nowhere comedic timing that kept us laughing out loud throughout the film (did you know that Peet is funny? AND talented?), she held onto an unapologetic vulnerability that stole the show. There is a scene at the end of the film that absolutely cut me-- Mary's hang-up in the new girlfriend ultimately results in a confrontation. It's subtle and raw and important.

There is much more to discuss here-- the unexplained affair; the digression of the elderly; the danger of raising children in Manhattan. I could talk about Mary's obsession with toxins and Rebecca's sweet romance, and why we are often too forgiving of mean old women. I didn't even mention the irony of Kate's chairitable giving up there, did I? And how she always falls flat and how that's an important part of the story? This is the type of film that I get excited to write about and why I write on this thing at all. But I'll leave that all to you so that you will go see the film, and we'll touch base again to talk about the Ozark Mountains and sperm donors, shall we?

Happy Wednesday, New York.

No comments: