Please Give review - Tellingly, Nicole Holofcener’s fourth comedy of middle-class manners opens with breast shots. Big, small, old, young, saggy, not.
Her films often hinge on how we relate to our bodies: remember the mole in Walking And Talking? Here, the flesh-fest presages the film’s forthright slant on character: Holofcener lays bare strengths and self-doubts with such intimacy and honesty, you warm to her messed-up menagerie even at their most self-absorbed.
Take Catherine Keener’s Kate, who wrestles with middleclass guilt over the charmed New York life she lives with daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) and hubby Alex (Oliver Platt). They’ve done well from a furniture business – buying items off bereaved families, selling at a mark-up – and even managed to buy the next-door apartment.
But they can’t extend into it until it’s vacated by the aged occupant Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert) being cared for by her granddaughters, mammographytech Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and brittle spa-worker Mary (Amanda Peet). And as grumpy Gran won’t move until she dies, awkward scenarios ensue as the neighbours become friends.
Every character here has their ‘issue’: Abby’s explosive skin, good-hearted-but-gawky Rebecca’s loneliness. So much so that, when even a dicky toe is singled out for attention, you fear Holofcener is dishing out the hang-ups a tad systematically.
But top-drawer indie-crossover casting, subtle writing and nuanced direction keep characters from being ciphers. Keener earns her indie-queen crown, while Hall plays shyly sweet without gunning for sympathy. For her part, Holofcener provides balance, offsetting weepie moments with believably barbed humour.
The result transforms potential contrivances into a searching richness of characterisation that makes Please Give – wait for it – full-bodied.
Exploring class, generations and misbehaving bodies, Holofcener’s dramedy refines its character studies with warmth and wit as she creates warts-and-all individuals whose flawed humanity we warm to.