Won't someone please give Judge Roy Hrab a break?
"We buy from the children of dead people."
Please Give is the kind of movie built almost exclusively for film festival audiences. What does this mean (and leave) for the rest of us? Not much.
Facts of the Case
Kate (Catherine Keener, Capote) and her husband Alex (Oliver Platt, Lake Placid) run a trendy second-hand furniture store in Manhattan. They buy furniture for next nothing at estate sales and sell it at hugely inflated prices to clueless New Yorkers with money to burn. The couple has a teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele, Spanglish), who really wants a pair of jeans. Kate and Alex have also bought the apartment unit next door, so that they can enlarge their own place by merging the units. However, they need the tenant, 91-year-old Andra (Ann Gilbert, Grumpier Old Men), to die before beginning renovations.
It took some time to decide whether this film was any good. Please Give has some good moments, including funny dialogue and solid acting. However, it just doesn't resonate. There's something that doesn't ring true. It's hard to pinpoint why this is the case at first, but it soon becomes clear. The main reason, of course, is that we've seen this type of damaged people film dozens of times before.
Please Give repackages everything already presented in so many modern family dramas. Instead of a strong story, it offers a full complement of quirky and flawed characters: a guilt-ridden woman in Kate, the teenager in crisis through Abby, a husband in a mid-life crisis, a crotchety old woman to provide comic relief, a lonely woman (and granddaughter of the old woman) with a heart of gold (Rebecca Hall, Frost/Nixon), and the vain and superficial granddaughter (Amanda Peet, The Whole Nine Yards).
These quirky and flawed people eventually all get together in one scene for dinner and a quirky and flawed exchange ensues. More displays of quirkiness and flawed exchanges follow. The film follows these people around and some funny and sad stuff happens. By the end, the characters are still flawed and quirky, but have somehow become a little more richer from the experience (or so it goes). Plus, there's some kind of shallow message about materialism in there.
The other weakness is that there isn't much of an explanation about why these characters behave in the way they do. The lone exception is Abby, who is a teenager with a bad acne problem. That's somewhat acceptable. However, the rest are just cardboard cut-outs with only a few hints dropped here and there, but nothing substantial. For example, there is no compelling reason behind Kate's guilty compulsion to give money to everybody she thinks is poor. Even less clear, and what really makes the film ridiculous, is a marital affair that takes place. Given the differences in the characters involved, it would require a strong set of reasons for this tryst to occur, but nothing is provided. As a result, it's more laughable than believable.
There is nothing wrong with the performances per se. The actors do a fine job of inhabiting their rather one-dimensional characters. But one-dimensional characters aren't that interesting.
The audio and visual presentation is fine. The video is in a soft, cinéma vérité style that independent films love to use, but there are no problems. The audio is solid with the soundtrack and dialogue coming through clearly at all times.
There is a meagre set of extras. The first is a standard "Behind The Scenes" featurette, featuring comments from the cast and crew about making the film. The second is a short collection of outtakes. Up next are four Q & A clips from Film Independent's Preview Screening Series with writer and director Nicole Holofcener (Friends With Money). In response to a question about the meaning of the film's title, she makes the admission that one of her original ideas was to call it "The Cake Is Good." The last extra is the theatrical trailer.
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