There were about 8 other people in the theater for this, but I really hope that changes soon. It's so much better than most other things currently playing. The latest from writer/director Nicole Holofcener, Please Give revolves around the lives of two passive-aggressively feuding families connected by a Manhattan apartment building. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a mammogram specialist, spends most of her time working or taking care of her ailing, unapologetically rude grandmother Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), while her facial-doling sister Mary (Amanda Peet) focuses on self-tanning and stalking her ex-boyfriend's new partner.
Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are antique furniture dealers whose marriage has flattened out into more of a friendship/business partnership, with their teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) going through a rebellious bad-skin phase. Rebecca and Mary are convinced that the couple, who own Andra's apartment and live adjacent to it, are just waiting for her to die so they can expand their own dwelling. The two families develop a tentative relationship as everyone attempts to overcome certain internal struggles.
Despite having only seen one other film from Holofcener (Walking and Talking, her first feature-length), I have already deduced that a) I love her work and b) she's an incredibly adept writer. The script for Please Give has a wonderful, effortlessly realistic quality to it that's amplified by sharp humor and keenly-observed intimate moments. It's driven primarily by character rather than plot, with each figure confronting various flaws within themselves and unwittingly exposing their quirks and fears to those around them. It is primarily a comedy, but retains such a personal, almost raw feel that it never makes its characters into caricatures or one-dimensional cliches.
Though featuring a rather sizable ensemble cast, the film manages to develop everyone quite well with the aid of very talented and likable performers. Holofcener's muse Catherine Keener shines in the fairly central role of Kate, a caring but unsure mother whose guilt over her own privilege and job (which involves buying furniture from the descendants of the recently-departed and selling it for very high prices) is starting to take its toll on her conscience. She's easily depressed and worries constantly about charity, only to feel completely helpless whenever she does try to give back to the community. She's trapped in her own wealth and WASP-y mindset, unable to help anyone without also looking down on or pitying them. She's a character who might be hard to like or relate to, but Keener's dedicated performance makes her sympathetic.
The more I see of Rebecca Hall, the more I fall for her. She's so pretty and likable, and she's another standout here in the more understated role of Rebecca. Her relationship with her selfish sister is tempestuous at best, and her patience with her grandmother is astounding. She's a good foil for both Kate and Mary, and remains quietly interesting throughout the film. Of course Oliver Platt is the main comedic actor, giving a slightly goofy but very grounded performance as the husband who loves to make poor decisions. I'm not really a fan of Amanda Peet, but she was pretty good. It's tough because her character is almost impossible to like, and the addition of an actress I'm not crazy about just heightened the negative aspects.
Please Give is funny and affecting, with a script that goes for realism and a cast swimming in likability. More good comedies from lady writers/directors, please!
The Film Experience report from Sundance (bottom of the post)
AV Club review