MOVIE REVIEW The awkwardness of reality
Please Give forces us to confront taboo and uncomfortable truths
Directed and written By Nicole Holofcener
Starring Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Ann Guilbert
Please Give is a quirky movie that tickles your funny bone but thoroughly irritates everywhere else.
I kept cringing; all the characters are so damn insensitive and awkward. If I met them in real life, my impulses towards them would range from slapping the tan daughter for being a total bitch, shaking the pimpled girl for being a spoiled stereotype of a teenager, and most horribly, writing a check for the dying old lady so that I wouldn’t have to watch her and contemplate my own mortality.
Towards the middle of the movie, someone in the back of the theater dropped a full bag of jelly beans, and each bean rolled noisily down the length of the theater. I’m pretty sure that watching this movie makes you more awkward.
The ill at ease protagonist, Kate, is a middle-aged New York yuppie. She is thin and fashionably gawky, with dry skin and weirdly shaped feet. She has an overweight, middle-aged husband and an acne-infested brat of a teenage daughter.
Importantly, Kate is plagued by guilt because she earns a comfortable living by buying antique furniture from ignorant relatives of the freshly dead, and marking it up for sale in her fashionable vintage furniture shop. She has also purchased the apartment of the old woman next door so that when the woman dies, Kate can knock down the wall and have a master bathroom.
Kate’s guilt manifests itself in regularly feeding the homeless and donating her time to charity. However, she lacks the ability to direct her pity in a constructive and appreciated way. In one comic scene, Kate mistakenly offers her own leftovers to a random pedestrian — a wealthy black man — who is flabbergasted at the insult.
The characters are obsessed with quantifying the value of everything. This beautifully preserved wood table is worth $5K in my vintage store and those people were stupid to sell it for $300. But wait! Another dealer has bought my $5K table and marked it up to $7K! Was I stupid to undervalue my table?
Attaching a numerical value becomes more difficult for intangibles such as happiness. It leads people to pursue status symbols that don’t necessarily equate to happiness. Kate’s husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), is happy with his marriage but can’t pass up the opportunity of an affair with an attractive young woman. Overweight and unattractive as he is, she was probably the best affirmation of manhood and success he ever attained. The young woman (Amanda Peet), recently dumped by her boyfriend, needed to prove that she could tempt a man away from his marriage. The affair is driven by neither emotion nor lust, but neither is it a betrayal of Kate — instead it is the simple quest for a more fashionable wardrobe.
After the plastic glamour of Hollywood’s usual products, normal people seem like a disappointing let-down. Please Give is firmly grounded in reality. The cinematography has none of the pretensions of artistic Technicolor composition. The palette is one of grey concrete, drab brown lighting, and the occasional smattering of that atrocious rusty orange of 70s era upholstery that is supposed to pass for chic.
Please Give purposely irritates and chaffs, slapping us with all the taboo topics that are never discussed. If this movie is any hint, we awkward MIT geeks have no hope of ever acquiring grace, not even after we die.