My Blu-ray Shelf: 'Please Give' offers gentle warmth and bitter wisdom
Oliver Platt and Catherine Keener star in smart, gentle comedy
This last month has been an avalanche of reviews here on the blog, many of them for films that you won't be able to see until later this year, next year, or maybe not at all. That's sort of what happens when you get caught up in a festival cycle, and now that I'm coming out of it, I've got a ton of reviews still to write, and I've also got a landslide of DVDs and Blu-rays here at the house that need to be reviewed.
So this month, I'm going to be exploring some new ways of publishing in order to cover all of this great stuff. I'll be publishing a certain number of DVD reviews each week, some short, some long, but constant. We'll see if banking them ahead of publication works or not, but there are enough of them here on the desk that need writing up that there's no excuse for there to not be a constant presence here on the blog of home video reviews. It is such a major part of my film diet that not including it here on a regular basis is practically negligent.
Just tonight, I watched the Blu-ray of "Please Give," the latest film by Nicole Holofcener, and I think it's one of the strongest things she's done. In general, I like her films, and I like the performances, and I like the writing, but the films always feel sort of soft… unfocused. It's great observational stuff, and there's little doubt she's talented, but my affection for "Walking and Talking" and "Lovely & Amazing" and "Friends With Money" is a general affection for her voice more than a feeling that they are all three great movies. Her latest film may not be the giant grand slam that will launch her into mainstream superstardom, but it's a further distillation of that voice, and impeccably performed by a great ensemble.
Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) run a vintage furniture store together, and that seems to be a more successful union than their marriage, although they do have a pretty great teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele, the best thing about "Spanglish" back in 2004). They live in a NYC apartment, and they're desperate to expand, to get more room, and an opportunity has presented itself. They arrange to buy the apartment of Andra (Ann Guilbert), the genuinely rotten little 90-year-old woman who lives next door to them. In exchange, they agree to let her live there for the rest of her life… which they hope won't be too terribly long. Andra's got two granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet), and they become caught up in the lives of Kate, Alex, and Abby in a number of ways over the course of the film.
It's the lightest of Holofcener's films so far, even though it deals with some honest and difficult issues. The thing that impresses me the most in her writing here is the way she resists the urge to moralize in the way her story threads play out. Characters make choices, they fail in small ways and large, and yet they're not punished for it. The world just keeps turning, and mistakes become secrets, and that's just how it is. Holofcener doesn't condemn her characters for being weak, and she doesn't make anyone one-sided. Platt is often hired for his reliable way with a punchline, but he does work here that reminds just how deep he can cut at his best. Amanda Peet seems to be carving a career for herself playing difficult women, and she's quite affecting in her way.
Overall, it's nuanced, honest stuff, and "Please Give" is a quiet highlight of 2010, and the Blu-ray is sharp and clean, nothing special but an excellent presentation of the film itself.
"Please Give" arrives on DVD and Blu-ray October 19.
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