Please Give Review: Generous Offerings
If only life was as simple as an episode of Friends. You wouldn’t have to worry about emotional depth or those petty complications which make life difficult, you’d just move from one well-lit location to the next, safe in the knowledge that everything will turn out for the best. You might only be a waitress but that won’t stop you having an enormous apartment in the middle of the city.
Please Give is an entirely different kettle of fish. While its characters are middle class and living fairly comfortable lives, they’re densely entangled by emotions, desires and conflicting interests which serve to produce a satisfying and emotionally resonant film.
Furniture dealer Kate (Katherine Keener) is assailed by middleclass guilt over the comfortable lifestyle she has with her husband Alex (Oliver Platt) and her teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele). Her unease is compounded by the fact that she gets most of her furniture from bereaved families and that the couple are waiting to expand their apartment, but can’t do so until their elderly next door neighbour, Andra (Ann Guilbert), dies.
Andra’s looked after by her granddaughters – dutiful if meek mammogram nurse Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and reluctant, bitchy beauty technician Mary (Amanda Peet). In an attempt to assuage her guilt, Kate invites them over to dinner, where everything doesn’t quite go according to plan.
Their surly teenage daughter Abby is also struggling with her own problems and strikes up a friendship with Mary. She’s incredulous that her mother won’t spend $200 dollars on jeans but will constantly give money to the many homeless people in the neighbourhood.
Please Give often hints at undercurrents which are present but not always acknowledged – a tension can be felt in Alex and Kate’s relationship as well as between Mary and Rebecca – they’re on the cusp of confrontation, but nothing ever quite materialises. Director Holofcener’s achievement is in the little moments with each character; the contrast between what people think and what people say, what is done and what is seen. Please Give’s characters are imperfect and they don’t always make the best decisions but that’s what makes them human.
The performances are excellent across the board and delivered in a way which makes each character seem believable and likable despite their obvious flaws. Special mention should go to Holofcener regular Catherine Keener as Kate who excels at portraying anxious, troubled characters and Amanda Peet as Mary – sympathetic despite being acerbic and self-centred.
Despite its meditations on mortality, growing older, guilt and adultery, it’s far from depressing and contains frequent moments of piercing humour. It’s a film that offers no easy solutions to life’s tangled knot of problems, no great epiphanies, and no quick fixes. That in itself is a rarity in filmmaking where the goal often seems to be the resolution of all problems by the end of the duration.