Degrees of Guilt
The most prominent character in Please Give is Kate (Catherine Keener), a business owner in New York, married with daughter, and saddled with a massive sense of good fortune guilt. She can't pass by a homeless person without offering some money, and yet her very business is, in a way, taking advantage of others -- she and her husband Alex (Oliver Platt) buy the furniture of the recently deceased and resell them at their store. They've also bought the apartment adjacent to them, currently occupied by a 91-year-old woman (Ann Guilbert), whom they are just waiting to die so they can expand their own place. It would seem Kate, a sincerely thoughtful woman, has many things to feel guilty about.
Her neighbor's granddaughters, introverted Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and callous Mary (Amanda Peet), also figure into the mix, as does Kate's teenage disgruntled daughter Abby (Sarah Steele). When they all get to know one another, sparks don't necessarily fly, and thank goodness. Please Give, a movie mostly played for light comic effect, manages to maintain a sense of decorum, and in doing so, actually feels more believable -- the people here live their lives, have thoughts and opinions about this and that, engage in funny or revealing interactions, and, perhaps most importantly, exhibit contradictions and inconsistencies. They feel like real people -- they'll believe certain things and later might change their minds; they contrast each other, as some are easily more considerate and others are more rude; they form new friendships and shift the degree of their allegiances depending on new information they obtain.
Please Give doesn't have much plot, just characters interacting and developing, and its lack of a need for drama is refreshing. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener doesn't have a thesis to expound upon nor a thudding point to make -- she's created a group of people around the idea of the selectiveness of guilt and how it's an unavoidable emotion plus a necessary moral check, manifesting itself differently in each person. But Holofcener isn't exploring why people feel guilty; rather, she notes that some simply do, and what they fixate upon with their guilt can be both arbitrary and logical. The more strongly guilt-influenced characters are counterbalanced by ones who appear to feel no guilt at all. What seems to be suggested is that there are many things to feel bad about, so it's important to acknowledge this and keep one's guilt in a proper perspective. The movie shows a mature, natural handling of an unscientific approach to its subject, which amounts to a leisured time in the company of people you could easily run into on any given day out about town.
(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "R" for language, some sexual content and nudity.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.