Please Give- Nicole Holofcener, Director’s StatementRating: R, Runtime: 90 minutes
US Release Date: April 30, 2010
A wealthy New Yorker tries to assuage her guilt over her good fortune by doing volunteer work and befriending her cranky tenant and the tenant's granddaughters.
A friend’s apartment in New York was both the source and the setting for PLEASE GIVE. My friend bought her elderly neighbor’s apartment, just as the couple does in the movie, and they became good friends. When it came time to find a location for the film we ended up shooting in that actual building, and in one of its apartments.
One of the great things about living in New York (if you have money) is being able to buy a beautiful place and fill it with beautiful things. But how do you do that and feel okay about it when there are hungry people right outside your (beautiful, newly stripped solid walnut) door? I’ve been struggling to forgive myself for those contradictions my whole life, and I think that’s a struggle I heaped upon my characters, especially Kate. We tend to instantly sympathize with people who are struggling, so even though my characters do some unattractive things, I hope we can forgive them, especially while we laugh at them.
A good eye for furniture has served KATE (Catherine Keener) and ALEX (Oliver Platt) very well: their New York store, specializing in trendy mid-century modern design, is so successful that they’ve been able to buy the apartment next door to their own.
They plan to enlarge and remodel the space they share with their teenage daughter ABBY (Sarah Steele), but the next-door apartment is still inhabited by its former owner, elderly ANDRA (Ann Guilbert). Before they can knock down any walls, they have to wait for Andra to vacatethat is, die.
Meanwhile, they stock up on vintage inventory by buying pieces from the apartments of newly-deceased New Yorkers; as Alex puts it, “We buy from the children of dead people.” At one such apartment-emptying, Kate buys a trove of gorgeous modern furniture and accessories at a bargain from a busy son who doesn’t recognize the value of his mother’s “junk.” Kate may be a canny buyer, but she worries about the ethics of her business and the poverty and homelessness she sees around her. She tries to compensate by handing out money to street people.
Her daughter is both amused and annoyed by Kate’s guilty fretting. Affectionate and funny one minute, Abby is awash in teen-drama angst the next, preoccupied with her acne troubles and the search for the perfect pair of jeans. Alex looks on as a droll foil to both Abby and Kate, his partner in business, parenting, and life.
Next door, Andra’s granddaughter REBECCA (Rebecca Hall) visits almost daily, shopping and tidying for Andra, keeping her company and tolerating her cranky quirks with good nature. Rebecca is a radiology technician who administers mammograms; her gentle aura is tinged with lonely melancholy. When she visits Andra she keeps a frosty distance from the family next door. “She looks at you and sees death,” Abby tells Kate. “You’re a vulture.”
Rebecca shares a spartan apartment with her sister MARY (Amanda Peet). Mary is less forgiving of Grandma Andra’s sharp tongue and crabby manner, so she visits less often. Mary works at a spa, where she gives facials and cultivates her tanning-bed bronze andperfect grooming. Blunt, bitchy, and funny, Mary falls easily into the role of “bad sister” while Rebecca dutifully plays “good sister,” tsk-tsking Mary for her unhealthful drinking, tanning, and microwave food choicesas well as her neglect of Grandma.
Both sisters are single. Mary indulges her morbid curiosity about her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend by peering daily in the window of the shop where she works, occasionally pretending to browse to get a better look. Rebecca has tried computer dating with wretched results; she is befriended by one of her mammogram patients, MRS. PORTMAN (Lois Smith), who sees her as a potential girlfriend for her cute (but short) grandson EUGENE (Thomas Ian Nicholas). Rebecca is wary of the set-up, but Eugene seems sweet (and her equal in devotion to his grandmother).
To thaw the ice with the neighbors, Kate invites them over for dinner in honor of Andra’s birthday. It’s a hilariouslyand painfullystilted affair: Andra scowls and kvetches; Mary drops conversational bombshells over her bourbon glass and flirts with Alex; and Abby shows up at the table wearing panties over her head to hide a fulminating blemish. Mary declares that she can help Abby’s acne with a facial and urges her to come to the spa. She also badgers Kate into describing their planned remodel, despite the awkwardness of talking about what happens to Andra’s apartment after her death. Nevertheless, Kate’s good intention of improving neighborly relations do pay offRebecca warms up a bit to both Abby and Kate, while Abby considers Mary the ultimate in cool.
But it’s not Abby who shows up first at the spa. Alex (who otherwise doesn’t seem to take much interest in vanity) comes by for a facial from Mary that quickly turns into a kiss and escalates from there.
While Mary and Alex are embarking on an affair, Rebecca and Eugene are double- dating with their grandmas; they take Andra and Mrs. Portman for a scenic drive out of the city to view the autumn leaves. The drive was Rebecca’s idea: she had always dismissed people’s raptures about the changing leaves as silly, but when they come to a particularly spectacular vista, she finally understands what’s so special. Only Andra stubbornly refuses to take pleasure in the beauty.
Rebecca’s romance with Eugene is taking off, but Mary’s affair with Alex is fizzling out. Alex feels remorse about his experiment with infidelity and realizes that he doesn’t want to cheat on Kate.
Kate, meanwhile, is beset by unease: free-floating guilt about the state of the world, coupled with hints that something is amiss with Alex. She searches for meaning by trying out volunteer opportunitiesreading to the elderly, helping out in a sports program for cognitively disabled youthbut her efforts to redeem herself through good deeds just add to her sadness and she often finds herself in tears.
And Kate finally achieves a really satisfying act of redemption when she returns a valuable vase to the son who sold her his mother’s furniture for a song.
The family attends Andra’s funeral and says their goodbyes to the next-door neighbors. The apartment will now be theirs to renovate. On the way home, Abby spies something in a boutique window; inside, she finally tries on the perfect pair of jeans, as her parents look on lovingly. The jeans are expensive, but well worth the pleasure of giving them, together, to their daughter.
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