Tribeca Review: Please Give
A couple years ago I learned about a way that some people actually invest in the death of the elderly. What they do is find octogenarians with term-life insurance policies (where they have to make regular payments), and no heirs. They then offer a deal for the policy, where the person would give the octogenarian a large sum of cash in reciprocation for the person being named the beneficiary. Once the deal is made, the policy buyer then continues to make payments until said elderly person dies, at which time they collect. In short, they are investing in death, hoping that the person will die quick enough that they can make the maximum profit.
I couldn’t help but remember this while watching Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give. It turns out there's more than one way to make money off the death of the grandma down the hall.
Kate and Alex (Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt) are not only husband and wife, but business partners running a furniture store filled entirely with furnishings sold to them by individuals trying to get rid of their recently-deceased-relative’s stuff. As if that weren’t enough to develop a three-ton soul, the also have purchased the apartment of their next-door neighbor, a 91-year old woman named Andra (Ann Guilbert), and are waiting for her to kick the bucket so that they can knock down a few walls. Andra is not without family, however, her two granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet) regularly coming by to do the shopping and cleaning up (the former more than the latter). Under the weight of her conscience, Kate invites her neighbor and family over to celebrate Andra’s birthday, and their lives quickly become intertwined.
Straddling the line between comedy and drama, it is Holofcener’s script that is the true stand-out of the film, particularly in its character development. Kate possesses a compulsion to give constantly, be it giving a $20 to a homeless man or looking up volunteer opportunities in the middle of the night; Alex doesn’t feel trapped like your average Hollywood Drama husband, but rather has seen the relationship with his wife become all about business; Mary is a self-obsessed (possible) alcoholic who doesn’t see the point in feeding anyone bullshit; and Rebecca is repressed and never willing to say the worst even if she thinks it. The plot of the film rides on the characters and does so impressively.
Playing what is certainly the deepest character, Keener’s performance is extraordinary and should earn a great deal of attention and even some hardware come the 2011 award season. Her portrayal of the heavy-hearted Kate and her chemistry with all of the other characters succeeds in being both emotional and comedic (by the end of the film, the number of people she feels sorry for approaches the triple digits).
There are segments of the film that try too hard and Rebecca’s storyline is left hanging open by the end, but it’s not enough the hamper the final reaction to the film. Prepare to hear the name “Nicole Holofcener” again and again in the near future.
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