Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Dec 25th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Crocodile Tears

film_PLEASEGIVEstill2Class, guilt and privilege converge in an unconvincing 'Please Give'
Nicole Holofcener is becoming the bard of upper middle-class, white ineffectuality. Her last film, Friends With Money, was an astoundingly lame look at useless L. A. women making foolish choices, adrift in their own lives. In her angsty new comedy, Please Give, Holofcener switches the action to New York City, but sticks to the same milieu of clueless privilege, trapping her excellent cast in a lineup of dubious characters whose behavior ranges from merely baffling to downright unpleasant. To make it all feel more weighty, Holofcener tosses in an element of all-purpose white liberal guilt. But like so many other elements in the story, she really doesn't know how to use it to good effect.

Holofcener's longtime muse and accomplice, Catherine Keener, again stars. She and the entertaining Oliver Platt play Kate and Alex, a long-married couple who are also business partners in a trendy furniture resale shop in downtown Manhattan. They acquire their stock from the estates of the recently deceased, whose relatives are eager to get rid of all of mom's or grandma's old "junk." Kate buys it for a song, and she and Alex sell it to antiques collectors at a tidy profit.

But Kate is starting to feel queasy about the whole operation; it's becoming one more thing to feel guilty about for a woman already on a mission to "save the world," according to her caustic 15-year-old daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele). Kate can't walk down the street without doling out fives and twenties to the neighborhood homeless people. Given to weeping jags over the state of humanity, she keeps trying to find volunteer work, but close encounters with the elderly in a nursing home, or special needs kids in an after-school program make her too sad.

Kate and Alex have also purchased the apartment next door in their swanky building, with the stipulation that the current tenant can stay there for the remainder of her life. That would be 91-year-old Andra (Ann Guilbert, beloved as neighbor Millie on the old Dick Van Dyke TV show), a tough, lonely, mostly housebound old bird who doesn't mince words and has outlived all her friends.

Kate, of course, feels guilty that her family is just waiting for Andra to die so they can knock out the walls between the two apartments and expand their living space. So she tries to befriend the two granddaughters who come in to care for her. Loyal, patient Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a radiologist who conducts mammogram screenings, visits every day. Her bitchy sister Mary (Amanda Peet), who gives mediocre facials in a skincare spa and is obsessed with tanning, only visits under duress, and makes no secret of her dislike for Granny and her hopes for the old lady's speedy demise.

But once these prickly characters are in place, Holofcener doesn't really take them anywhere. Mary's non-stop vitriol becomes exhausting. Kate's feeble attempts to act on her random guilt feelings, personally and professionally, are clumsy and ineffectual. (Indeed, the horrible closing scene seems to suggest that getting over her guilt and embracing her privileged status has been the point of Kate's story arc all along.) When Alex has something specific to feel guilty about (in a less-than-credible subplot), it too amounts to nothing, either in his life or in the film's plot.

Thematic ideas about consumerism and the indignity of old age surface now and then; there's irony in the way objects increase in value as they age, while the apparent worth to society of the aging people who own them declines. And there's a breezy running gag about film_please_givehow everyone in the city is all afire to go upstate to see "the leaves" (that is, the autumnal colors), as if they were some hot Broadway show in a limited run. Holofcener coaxes some nice performances out of her players, but she never digs deeply enough into her themes or characters; she settles for wistfulness over insight. And the facile way she absolves her characters (a sisterly squeeze; a pair of expensive jeans) suggests the filmmakers’ sense of compassion, like Kate's, is only so many crocodile tears.

PLEASE GIVE ★★ With Rebecca Hall, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, and Amanda Peet. Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. A Sony Classics release. Rated R. 90 minutes. Watch film trailer >>>

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Dancing In the Rain

District Attorney Bob Lee’s death in October stunned the Santa Cruz community, but he had battled cancer fiercely—and privately—for more than a decade. Now one of his closest friends reveals the remarkable inside story

 

Giving and Giving, Then Giving Some More

2014 is almost over. Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Jewish Festival of Light, Hanukkah, begins. We are in our last week of Sag and last two weeks of December. Sunday, Dec. 21 is winter Solstice, as the sun enters Capricorn (3:30 p.m. for the west coast). Soon after, the Capricorn new moon occurs (5:36 p.m. for the west coast)—the last new moon of 2014. Sunday morning Uranus in Aries (revolution, revelation) is stationary direct (retro since July 22). Uranus/Aries create things new and needed to anchor the new culture and civilization (Aquarius). We will see revolutionary change in 2015. Capricorn new moon, building-the-personality seed thought, is, “Let ambition rule and let the door to initiation and freedom stand wide (open).” Capricorn is a gate—where matter returns to spirit. But the gate is unseen until the Ajna Center (third eye), Diamond Light of Direction, opens. Winter solstice is the longest day of darkness of the year. The sun’s rays resting at the Tropic of Capricorn (southern hemisphere) symbolize the Christ (soul’s) light piercing the heart of the Earth, remaining there for three days, till Holy Night (midnight Thursday morning). Then the sun’s light begins to rise. It is the birth of the new light (holy child) for the world. A deep calm and stillness pervades the world.The entire planet is revivified, re-spiritualized. All hearts beating reflect this Light. And so throughout the Earth there’s a radiant “impress” (impressions, pictures) given to humanity of the World Mother and her Child. The star Sirius (love/direction) and the constellation Virgo the mother shines above. For gift giving, give to those in need. Give and give and then give some more. This creates the new template of giving and sharing for the new world.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Pinned Down

Actors shine in true-crime wrestling drama ‘Foxcatcher’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Best Bites of 2014

A look back at the year in good taste

 

What downtown business is good for both one-stop shopping and last-minute gifts?

The Homeless Garden Project store. Because it is a community effort and has really useful and beautiful things, and allows you to connect with a lot of folks who are doing great work in Santa Cruz. Miriam Greenberg, Santa Cruz, UCSC Professor

 

Vino Tabi Winery

One of Santa Cruz’s most happening areas to go wine tasting is in the westside’s Swift Street Courtyard complex. Ever since a group of about a dozen wineries got together and formed Surf City Vintners (SCV), the place has been a hive of activity, and a wine-tasting mecca. Adding to the mix is the lively Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing beer company—making Swift Street Courtyard a perfect spot for a glass of wine or a pitcher of ale.

 

Betty’s Eat Inn

Yes, she’s a real person; no, this isn’t her