“Please Give” is a quirky little
story (written and directed by Nicole Holofcener) about a couple of families
living in apartments next to each other, somewhere in
New York City
In one apartment, a crusty old Grandma
(Ann Morgan Guilbert, would you believe best known in “The Dick Van Dyke
Show”?) looks at the world unhappily, and at everyone in it suspiciously.
She has two grown granddaughters, sisters, Mary (Amanda Peet) and
Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), both single, who both visit her regularly.
Mary, a self-absorbed cynic who does facials for a living, is as sour
as she is, so, naturally, they don’t get along.
Rebecca is just good-hearted. She
works as a mammogram technician (only Nicole Holofcener herself could get
away with starting this movie by showing us a series of very clinical,
anatomical close-up shots of breasts in the vise of a mammogram).
She buys the groceries for Grandma (walking the longer way to the
other store, because Grandma prefers it, and using the coupons, because
Grandma demands it). Rebecca meets a young man through one of her patients,
and though he’s shorter in stature, he’s just the kind of nice guy that
she feels comfortable with. We
have hopes for her. But as for
the rest, not so much.
Next door, the husband Alex (Oliver
Platt) and the wife Kate (Catherine Keener) have a very insecure 15-year-old
daughter with an acne problem. They
also have an furniture/antique business, where their main source of supply
comes from the grieving relatives of people who have just died.
(“Oh, Grandpa’s stuff was mostly old junk, anyway.
How much to just take it all off our hands?”)
Kate, feeling guilty about making her living through technically
legal but morally repugnant fleecing, distances herself from Alex, who in
turn takes a liking to Mary. Kate
also tries to assuage her guilt, by giving money away to every street beggar
she sees, but runs into resistance from her daughter, who would prefer that
money be given to her for clothes.
What we have here is a character
study. In some ways, it’s
unsatisfying because nobody is very happy.
Even what sexual grappling there is seems almost desultory, as if it
ceased being fun a long time ago. Mary
finds herself stalking the girlfriend of her ex, wondering what she has that
she herself apparently didn’t (other than a strong back).
The attempt at a neighborly social ends in mutual exchange of
insults, and a complete relational disaster.
It’s as if nobody can be happy just being happy.
Hmm, let’s see, depression,
disloyalty, isolation, guilt, grief, and manipulation.
Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, does it?
And yet, there are some “chuckle” moments, but more importantly,
there is some truth here, in the classic prophetic sense:
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9)
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace