Bare breasts, young and old, pert and drooping, fill the screen at the start of Please Give, an unnervingly hilarious and heartfelt comedy of bad manners from writer-director Nicole Holofcener. As you'd probably guess from that mammogram montage, the film takes you in directions you don't see coming, which makes it rare and remarkable just for starters. Please Give stars Catherine Keener, as do all of Holofcener's films so far (Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing, Friends With Money). The glorious Keener, incapable of a false move or a bullshit line reading, plays Kate, a New Yorker who runs a furniture store with her husband, Alex (a sublimely funny and touching Oliver Platt). "We buy from the children of dead people," notes Alex dryly. Their business is thriving, which makes Kate feel guilty. She doles out money to the homeless in increasingly large bills. Guilt defines Kate's feelings about her job, her insecure teen daughter (Sarah Steele), her roving husband and her neighbor Andra (the comically appalling Ann Guilbert), an old lady whose death will mean that Kate and Alex can annex her apartment and make theirs bigger. Andra's unmarried granddaughters, shy Rebecca (the ever-amazing Rebecca Hall) and provocative Mary (a flinty Amanda Peet), know that is Kate's master plan. A dinner party to melt the frost in honor of Andra's birthday is an uproarious disaster. No fair saying more about a movie that transacts delicate business with such dazzling skill. The pitch-perfect performances help Holofcener stir up feelings that cut to the heart of what defines an ethical life. There's no movie around right now with a subject more pertinent. It'll hit you hard.
From The Archives Issue 147: November 8, 1973