Slipping and falling women: PLEASE GIVE

I’ve seen too many main stream romantic comedies that show its female lead literally slipping and falling on her face, to the point that this physical pratfall seems totally cliché.  I’m all for women doing ridiculous things – but really there’s so much to draw on out there. Let’s try for more meaningful, complex and embarrassing stuff. The kinds of things we women do that on reflection make us cringe so deeply we’d like to just implode into ourselves. Nicole Holofcener is still making films her way thankfully and PLEASE GIVE satisfies all these needs. What a relief to see imperfect women on the screen whose actions are not defined by their male counterparts and who do not totally reform by the end of the film in simplistic two dimensional ways. They are complex characters. They are selfish, vulnerable, loving and misguided in subtle and not so subtle ways. They are often gloriously ridiculous…

Catherine Keener plays Kate, a New York furniture dealer who is plagued with guilt about the ethical nature of her business. She buys antique furniture from the relatives of the recently deceased, and then resells them for infinitely more in her store. Her sympathy for the poor and disadvantaged at times seems borderline offensive because she is so patronizing. In one powerful and pathetic scene, she hides in the restroom crying about the plight of Down Syndrome children as a girl with Down Syndrome tries to comfort her from outside the stall.  Kate’s self indulgence isn’t hateful. It’s actually sad to watch her drown in it.

The other female characters all exist somewhere on the spectrum of imperfection. There is Kate’s next door neighbor Andra (Ann Guilbert) whose apartment Kate and her husband Alex (Oliver Platt) have bought with the idea that they will expand into it when Andra dies. The situation invites us to feel bad for Andra who is in her 90’s, but she is defiantly selfish, mean and narrow-minded. Her two granddaughters Mary (Amanda Peet) and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who take care of her, have contrasting approaches to Andra’s impending death, one of them scathingly honest, the other grudgingly dutiful.  Mary, self-tanned to a dark brown crisp, is seemingly eager for her grandmother to die. She strides through the film with a kind of buoyant selfishness, having an affair with Kate’s husband and stalking her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. She is the most difficult and ridiculous character and as the film progresses, she neither learns from her experiences nor reforms. Instead, at the end, she seems to dissolve into a moment of despair… and I have to admit… I cared.