Nicole Holofcener’s most recent film, Please Give, is a sharp and creative story of the interaction of a fascinating set of ordinary people. Kate (Catherine Keener) owns a vintage furniture shop with her husband Alex in which the couple sell items purchased from the nescient relatives of the recently deceased. Kate’s concerns about their business practices have increasingly tickled her conscience, which she partly mitigates with her admirable generosity. Her relationship with her daughter Abby, who is her mother’s antithesis in her materialist and less charitable nature, is tested by Abby’s declining self-esteem. The family’s neighbour is an invective and cantankerous nonagenarian cared for by her granddaughters — one a shy yet caring radiology technician, the other a shallow spa employee — whose apartment they own but cannot renovate until she dies.
Please Give is essentially an exercise in character development; the wonderfully intricate characters intertwine with each other in the most fascinating manner with impressively dry and witty dialogue. This is accompanied with dynamic acting throughout the play — the most noteworthy performances given by Keener and Ann Guilbert, who plays the grandmother Andra. While Kate and Alex make their living off the dead, generating a profit from the furniture of the deceased and waiting for Andra to die in anticipation of her apartment, this fact consumes only the conscience of Kate and not Alex. The juxtaposition of the introverted and altruistic daughter with her apathetic, extroverted sister provides for a considerable amount of insightful conflict, and the diverse range of responses different characters have to the recalcitrant Abby, who is simultaneously self-absorbed yet critical of herself, offer deeper depictions of their nature.
The largest failing of this film is its remarkable lack of substance. It is characters rather that plot that are the engine of this creation, and as a result some may find it disappointingly lacking. What little does happen that is of actual consequence is utterly predictable, but necessary to provide structure and purpose to the text. Despite this, the strength of the characters, acting and dialogue is enough to allow Please Give widespread critical acclaim that is wholly justified.