Please Give, Or, How to Make Characters Look Like Saints by Filling Movies With Cartoon People


I waited a while to see this movie, not because I'd heard particularly bad things about it, but because a friend and I were talking about a perplexing and irritating new trend in movies (and in books, but that's a topic for another time): New York stories about New Yorkers doing upper class New York things and basically being...New Yorkey. It's the land of Sex and the City, where no homeless people exist except as ways to demonstrate what kind of people our characters are, where everyone is white, and the most pressing drama is always existential, never concrete.

Please Give doesn't quite go that far, but it veers very close. Of the main characters, all but Rebecca Hall are truly horrible, and not just horrible, but really the most horrible people in the world. Are we really expected to feel any sort of sympathy for a girl who literally takes money from her mother's hands when she's trying to give it to a homeless man? A teenager who wants  $200 dollar jeans and hates that her mom gives the money to the needy instead. Horrible. But so OBVIOUSLY horrible.

And Amanda Peet. Also very obviously horrible, asking Catherine Keener about what she's going to do with the place when her grandmother dies, IN FRONT OF HER DYING GRANDMOTHER ON HER GRANDMOTHER'S BIRTHDAY. And did you know she's horrible?

Not that Peet is capable of playing any kind of role other than bad, of course. I can imagine her having conversations with her agent:

"Oh, Amanda, you're so bad!"

"Oh agent, I hate you and you're a dirty cocksucker."

"Oh Amanda, you're so bad! Let me get more roles for you so you can annoy people other than me."

I would formally request Hollywood to ban Amanda Peet from acting, ever again. She's a soul-sucking vacuum that draws life and reality from any story; a plastic mannequin standing in place of what should be challenging and compelling characters. Oliver Platt is equally guilty in this film, but I give him a pass as he has been great in past roles.

Catherine Keener, who's normally impossible to hate, gets the most abjectly boring story - she feels guilty. Not guilty about anything real, but that irritating white upper class guilt, where she feels bad about being rich (but not really), about not being disabled (but again, not really). She does in fact have real problems in the form of her sociopathic teenage daughter and lecherous husband, but somehow those things don't matter. Her existential guilt is what matters to director Nicole Holofcener. And the moral of her story? It truly is better to buy her daughter $200 jeans than to, say, teach her to be a better person.

It's a non-wacky movie that tries desperately to be wacky, turning humans into ciphers instead of real people (again, with the exception of Rebecca Hall). I just don't know how I feel about a movie where everything that happened is totally inevitable. Where everything that happens is not only foreshadowed, but fore-highlighted. As irritating as it was, you just KNEW Keener was going to buy acne-brat those jeans. You knew that the grandmother was going to die, and that Amanda Peet would continue to be crass and horrible. There was not a single surprise, and not a single instance of forward momentum.

The only thing to recommend this movie is that it does have genuinely funny moments. But skip it, unless Manhattan Malaise is your cup of tea.

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