Get ready for a mammogram. And another mammogram. And another. This is how Nicole Holofcener kicks off her film Please Give. Here in the dreaded radiology clinic, lonely New Yorker Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) is employed in X-raying women's breasts or, as she calls them, "tubes of potential danger." The morbidity is vintage Woody Allen, but with a female perspective the movies rarely provide. While Woody now relies on his stale Catskills joshing and secondhand theatrics, Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing, Friends With Money) writes dialogue that feels naturally funny and naturally vicious, like she's really lived this stuff. And she's got the best ensemble cast we're likely to see this year.
At home, Rebecca patiently tends to her sister, Mary (Amanda Peet), and their grandmother (Ann Guilbert), a pair of dueling bitches who take their own insecurities out on each other. Mary can't wait to sell Grandma's apartment to neighbor Catherine Keener, a furniture dealer full of white guilt. Her husband Oliver Platt declares brightly, "We buy from the children of dead people!" It's a wonderful town.
After last week's big-screen installment of Sex and the City, it feels very easy to write off the Big Apple entirely, like an occupational expense. But Holofcener, who directed a few episodes of that HBO program, has made this movie about Manhattan privilege, with more in mind than simply flaunting it. Please Give is a bit like the blue-state version of The Blind Side. Instead of middle-American mama Sandra Bullock bestowing Christian largesse on her adoptive son, we get Keener, haggling with her daughter over a generous handout to a street beggar. The preteen girl snatches the money from her mother's hand, complaining, "You don't give me $20!" "I'm sorry," Keener tells the homeless man, "I'm ashamed." Just the sort of self-absorbed mother we expect Keener to play, but her behavior—and that of her husband—is traced to a genuine fear of aging and death. I was too cynical when I reviewed The Blind Side, a boring yet good-hearted picture, and Please Give should be applauded for exploring that cynicism.
The movie concludes on a note that's rather Sex and the City: Shopping brings the family together. Socially, it's not a happy ending, but psychologically, it's perfectly honest. This isn't The Blind Side. These folks aren't big into spiritual transcendence. At least they've realized that they have a family. It's a start. R.
Opens Friday at Fox Tower.