American diplomat Clare Boothe Luce once said, “Money can't buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you're being miserable.” Her spot-on quote exemplifies the tongue-in-cheek message of Friends With Money, the honest and endearing third feature by writer/director Nicole Holofcener, that makes light of another touchy subject. Let’s face it: nothing comes between adult female friends like gazing across at each other from different tax brackets.
Among the group of four friends living in Los Angeles, Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) is youngest, unmarried, and currently in the poorhouse. These factors cause her other friends with money—Frannie (Joan Cusack), Jane (Frances McDormand) and Christine (Catherine Keener)—to treat her with a mix of affectionate pity and accidental smugness. Since quitting her teaching job where the rich kids flicked quarters at her to buy lunch, she is working as a maid for $65 a day and sleeping with a moronic personal trainer (Scott Caan), who avoids eye contact during erotic moments. Her life is nothing worth tap-dancing about, so she eases the pain with marijuana and free samples from high-end cosmetic counters.
While the other friends may have free-flowing bank accounts, they have their own collections of woes. Christine and husband David (Jason Isaacs) are unsuccessfully writing a screenplay together, and adding another layer to their house as a band-aid for their flailing marriage; Jane is having a mid-life crisis where she is too lazy to wash her hair, and may or may not be married to a homosexual (Simon McBurney); and Frannie, the richest of the bunch, is happily married to Matt (Greg Germann) and struggling to maintain a friendship with Olivia, despite having nothing in common apart from anatomy.
Just as friendships naturally drift after high school, things change for adult friends when some get married, have babies, and get rich—while others remain stagnant. Nicole Holofcener, who previously explored female dynamics with Walking & Talking and Lovely & Amazing, shows that she has an excellent knack for observation. It’s nice to see women on screen that are actually written by a woman, behaving in ways we can all find familiar instead of offensive. (Unlike Nine Lives, written by Rodrigo Garcia, where women serve two purposes: throwing psychotic temper tantrums and overanalyzing every moment of their waking lives). In Friends With Money, women act like real women, for better or worse.
It’s not all doom and gloom; staying true to her roots, Holofcener pokes fun at relatable circumstances instead of making them too ominous. The movie is perfectly cast, with the best big-screen performance by Aniston since The Good Girl. There is not a hint of sitcom shtick in sight, and the less make-up she wears, the better she seems to perform. McDormand provides the film’s biggest comic relief, notably in a scene where she reprimands a line-cutter in Old Navy. For every truthful nugget in the movie, there is a laugh accompanying it. Friends With Money is a rich blend of insights told with a smirk.