Late last night I saw the Louis C.K. concert film Louis C.K.: Hilarious, which I may or may not review because, well, it's a comedy concert film and you pretty much know what you're in for. But one of his lines that stuck with me, and has been quoted at me repeatedly this week, is the phrase "White People Problems." You know, the kind of stuff you complain about when the basics like food, water and shelter are covered-- bad cell service, delays at the airport, etc. etc.
Nicole Holofcener's Please Give is a movie about White People Problems suffered by white people living in one of New York City's most beautiful neighborhood. But because it has great affection for its characters and goes in a few surprising directions, Please Give feels a lot more human and relateable than it might have, reflecting a few greater things about all of us even when its closing moment is a woman buying a pair of $200 jeans.
Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are a pair of Manhattan antiques dealers, called into the homes of the dead by their children to assess what furniture might be worth something and pay them a pittance so that they can mark it up 200% and sell it to the even wealthier. Kate feels constantly guilty about it and makes up for it with usually wrongheaded and good-hearted gestures, like offering leftovers to a man who isn't in fact homeless, or bursting into tears when a developmentally disabled kid shows her how to shoot hoops.
Kate and Alex, who live with their teenage daughter (Sarah Steele), are also waiting for their elderly neighbor Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert) to die so that they can annex her apartment; the woman's granddaughters Mary (Amanda Peet) and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) visit frequently and have mixed feelings on the neighbors they see as both vultures and kindred spirits. Kate and Alex throw Andra a birthday dinner and meet Rebecca and Mary for the first time properly; what spins off from there are a series of connections and understandings that don't change everyone, exactly, but give new perspective on what it means to care for each other.
If there's a message to the movie, it's that-- take care of each other as best you can, and the small stuff will work itself out. Luckily Please Give is also very funny, making the sentimentality much easier to handle when it starts creeping in near the end. It's one of those indie movies in which not much happens and everyone talks a lot, but the good humor and easily relatable stakes of all the relationships make it a compelling comedy as well. With great performances all the way down to line-- Hall in particular gets better to watch every time she's onscreen-- Please Give is satisfying on pretty much every well. It makes you wish every comedy could be this good.
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