In PLEASE GIVE, director Nicole Holofcener returns to some of the same themes that plagued her 2006 film FRIENDS WITH MONEY, namely money and what to do when you have too much of it. The answer in that case was to donate lots of it to worthy causes unless that worthy cause involves someone you know, in which case it’s impertinent to give a monetarily un-endowed friend a bundle of cash. If that friend has any luck, however, her day wage job will lead her into a situation where she can meet a rich person who’s just bored and lonely enough to marry her, hence solving her money problems for good.
This time around Holofcener investigates the same problem with Kate (Catherine Keener) whose middle-aged, upper-middle class guilt is driving her to seek out ridiculous ways of relieving the anxieties associated with her ample income. Kate and her husband are furniture dealers who buy mid-century modern couches and tables and such on the cheap from the descendants of their owners (ambulance chasers, one customer calls them) and then bring the pieces to their show room where they hike up the prices. In the meantime Kate and her husband want to buy the apartment next door so they can knock down the walls and expand their home. The only problem is that someone lives there, an old woman, and they’re waiting for her to die. All this profiting off death is starting to get to Kate, who refuses to buy her daughter expensive jeans because somewhere, she rationalizes, children are starving.
She tries to find solace in volunteering, first at an old people’s home and then at a school for the developmentally challenged. Both attempts fail, of course, because she’s driven by her own selfish reasons, not her desire to help other people, just like when she tries to give a $20 bill to a homeless man it’s because it makes her feel good. But it’s not all about Kate; There’s a lot more going on. Her husband strikes up an affair with their neighbor’s granddaughter for no apparent reason, their daughter obsesses about her skin and those expensive jeans and no one seems to be getting any happier or any closer to getting what they want.
In the end the only thing the do, and the answer to Holofcener’s pervading question, what do you do with too much money, is to embrace it. Kate’s not going to change the world or the life of even one homeless person by handing out twenties on the street, but she can buy her daughter those jeans and once the old lady next door dies she can use her money to buy her family a little piece of happiness, no matter how ill-founded it may be.