I would like to write a series of entries investigating how I feel about the world of female filmmakers, but I am as yet not knowledgeable enough about the subject to enter into the discussion fully. However, I would like to introduce the topic with a review of Nicole Holofcener's Please Give, which opened in limited release last Friday.
Starring Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Sarah Steele, and Holofcener regular Catherine Keener, Please Give is a movie about guilt. There's a bit of an uncomfortable chemistry when a woman-centric film focuses so strongly on guilt, but it is a story about compassion, acceptance, and niceness as well. Keener and Platt play married couple Kate and Alex, who earn their very comfortable living buying furniture from the children of the recently deceased, and selling them at a steep mark-up in their antique shop. They own the apartment next to theirs, which is inhabited by elderly Andra, while they wait for her to die so they can expand their square footage. Andra's adult granddaughters Rebecca and Mary intersect with the story, and with Kate and Alex's teenage daughter Abby.
The core of Kate's journey is her difficulty reconciling with the guilt she feels in making a living off of practically stealing from the grieving survivors of the elderly. She tries to assuage this by offering cash and restaurant leftovers to every homeless person she passes (much to the embarrassment of Abby), but it never quite makes her feel better. She dabbles in volunteering at a retirement home and an athletic camp for special needs youth, but can't shake her pity and sadness over how privileged she feels in comparison. Trying to juggle her guilt, her inability to connect with her daughter, and her increasingly platonic relationship with her husband, Kate also can't understand how easy it is for Alex to feel nothing about the morally questionable lifestyle they lead. Alex deals with guilt as well in the film, but his role is much more subdued (and more typical).
Andra's younger granddaughter Rebecca visits daily to help care for her, but her sister Mary is more concerned with working on her tan and stalking her ex's new girlfriend than looking after their extremely crass and tactless grandmother. Rebecca embarks on a sweet and nervous relationship with the grandson of one of her "patients" (she's a mammogram technician), while spreading her wings a bit and learning to become happy with her life.
The other two Holofcener movies I've seen, Friends With Money and Lovely & Amazing also focused on women, but on how certain women deal with universal subjects such as finances and personal appearance. Please Give is no different, as all of us deal with thoughts about guilt, privilege, and wondering when certain feelings are appropriate. Watching Kate and Rebecca (and the other characters, to a lesser extent) find peace with their uneasiness, is an enjoyable and approachable journey.
On a more superficial note (but not really, given the loaded context), it was wonderful to see Real Looking People onscreen. Keener, Hall, and Peet are all beautiful women, but they looked real. Platt and Keener looked like a real married couple, and Steele (remember her from Spanglish?) looks like their real daughter. They talked like real people, about real world things, and I felt so much more voyeuristic peering into their lives than I do when watching a movie with airbrushed cake toppers in the starring roles. Kudos to Holofcener and her team for being honest in casting, writing, and filmmaking in general.