Please Give is a hugely enjoyable comedy drama from writer/director Nicole Holofcener which similar to her previous work such as 2006’s Friends with Money, offers a multi-strand narrative sprinkled with wit and humor. The film focuses on two neighboring families in a plush New York tower block. Behind one door is the fantastic Catherine Keener as affluent Kate, a loving mother to surly teen Abby (Sarah Steel) and a picky wife to her business partner husband Alex (Oliver Platt). Behind the other door is cantankerous 91 year old Andra, an elderly crank who is dependent on her two granddaughters, the sweet natured and caring soul Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), and her self-centered and blunt sister, Mary (Amanda Peet). Tensions exist between the two families as Catherine owns Andra’s apartment with the aim of knocking through the wall and building her dream home – once Andra has passed on of course. This doesn’t seem to deter them from openly talking about their plans in front of battle axe Andra.
The film branches out to show the different issues at play in the various characters lives; Kate struggles with her lifestyle and occupation. She begins to feel guilty about the nature of her business (she and her husband are essentially ‘vultures’ they swoop in dubiously to buy vintage furniture from recently bereaved families who are unaware of the pieces true value, then sell them on for extortionate prices); Rebecca strains from juggling caring for her difficult grandmother with a full time job at the hospital, as well as clashing with her ignorant sister and worst of all, being single; Alex is finding his marriage and partnership to Kate a little restrictive, whist 15 year old Abby struggles with her weight and appearance.
Not a lot happens in terms of plot or dramatic developments, the film simply meanders through the characters lives, there’s plenty of moralizing and philosophizing abound but it never ventures too deep or too dark and the humor keeps it buoyant, working to highlight the characters flaws and insecurities. Keener is a particular delight to watch as she wrestles with her conscious. She wishes the world was a better place and issues such as homelessness really do bother her, but the film only serves to illustrate her impotence in solving the matter. It’s also endearing to watch Rebecca who on the opposite spectrum from Kate is doing her best to make the world around her a better place, starting with the old ‘charity begins at home’ mantra shown through her dutiful nature to her contemptuous grandmother. My particular favorite character though goes to the ruthlessly bitchy Mary, who is openly rude and resentful of her grandmother and completely self obsessed with her looks. She’s delightfully direct and unbelievably cold. She makes for a good contrast against both the troubled Kate and the sensitive Rebecca.
All in this is a little indie gem packed with great performances and involving characters. It will charm you instantly with its quirky opening sequence (a humorous little folk ditty plays over a montage of various exposed breasts – part of Rebecca’s job of carrying out mammograms) It has moments of gentle humor and biting wit, which leaves the viewer with some food for thought.