Layered in the tiny personal details of its quietly odd characters, Nicole Holofcener’s “Please Give” falls in the category of “slice of life.” It doesn’t inflict drama. Nor is it smitten with anti-drama in the manner of some indie films, that nagging feeling of falsely repressing emotion with a goal of being different. The film’s vibe just is, ambling along at its own little pace and its own little scale.
In keeping the volume down, “Please Give” is notable for the things it doesn’t do. An affair doesn’t explode into a domestic crisis. A death doesn’t lead to life-changing reflections. A budding romance isn’t an escape into bliss. The romance doesn’t even receive an ending. It only goes as far as it goes.
If I ever compile a volume of film reviews, I plan on titling it, “And Cathy Keener plays the Kooky Wife.” It’s a personal joke, based on the actress’ reliability, repeatedly displayed, to do just that. “Please Give” deepens that role. She plays a Manhattan used furniture dealer who collects and re-sells the furniture of the dead. As a bleeding-heart extraordinaire—unable to pass a street bum without handing him a twenty—her job makes her guilty.
Despite her goodness, she also has mixed feelings toward her 91-year-old neighbor living next door. No one likes to admit that a bitter 91-year-old woman living out her final days is an unlikable person. And no one likes to admit that she and her husband (Oliver Platt) are awaiting someone’s death so they can expand into her apartment.
Caring for the old woman are two grown grandchildren. The first is a tall wallflower (a superbly gentle Rebecca Hall) who visits everyday, a devotion that causes her own life to suffer. The other is a sharp-tongued flirt (Amanda Peet) who lacks a filter for her mouth. As acts of spite, she openly discusses her grandmother’s coming death right in front of the old lady.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. This sounds like a story that needs a teenage ordeal with pimples and a dose of family politics over buying expensive designer jeans. Well, you’re in the right place. Your wish is the film’s command.
Holofcener’s style is most similar to short stories. The style is breezy and tender. Small things have larger meanings. It dwells in small questions, such as what we owe people in need and why we feel that way. In its own quiet way, it is compelling.