“Please Give” (2010). Cast: Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet, Ann Guilbert, Sarah Steele, Lois Smith, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Josh Pais, Rebecca Budig. Director: Nicole Holofcener. Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener. www.sonyclassics.com/pleasegive
Behind every consciously created materialization in our lives lies an intent. It’s something that, at least superficially, takes on one appearance but often reveals itself to be something entirely different, especially once the interactions of others become involved in it. As esoteric as that might sound, that premise provides the basis of the story line of the new comedy-drama, “Please Give.”
Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) run a trendy Manhattan furniture showroom that resells well-kept retro pieces acquired from estate sales. Their acquisition tactics are a bit questionable, though; they prey on the clueless, grieving survivors of deceased seniors who have no idea how much the merchandise is worth, snatching up the goods for a pittance and reselling them for exorbitant prices to upscale Gothamites. It’s a practice that’s earned them a pretty cushy existence, too, enough so that they and their teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), can live a comfortable city lifestyle. In fact, they’ve done well enough to purchase the apartment unit of their curmudgeonly next-door neighbor, Andra (Ann Guilbert), whose ailing health has put her near the top of the list in God’s waiting room.
But the couple’s ethics also carry a price, at least for Kate. She often feels guilty about the affluence she and her husband have amassed. To alleviate these feelings, Kate regularly engages in spontaneous acts of selflessness, such as handing out money to New York’s homeless, a practice that seldom works out as intended (and never really gives her the relief she seeks). Kate also feels uneasy each time she sees Andra, wondering what her real feelings are toward her elderly neighbor: Are they those of someone who genuinely cares about a senior citizen’s well-being, or are they those of someone who can’t wait for the old lady to kick off so that she can grab her apartment? On top of all this, Kate often wonders what kind of example she and Alex are setting for Abby. All combined, these circumstances force Kate to come to terms with her innermost intentions, rightly or wrongly, for better or worse, and with or without the encumbrance of guilt.
But Kate’s intentions aren’t the only ones probed in this picture. We also see Andra’s granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet), wrestling with their intentions when it comes to caring, or not caring, respectively, for the welfare of their elder relation. Rebecca, in particular, also grapples with her intents underlying other issues, such as unraveling her feelings about grandma’s neighbors and trying to understand the often-selfish ways of her self-absorbed sister. And speaking of self-absorption, we see plenty of that with Alex and Abby as well; their self-centeredness is routinely expressed without hesitation, remorse, an awareness of what drives it or even its very existence.
“Please Give” skillfully examines the subject of intent from a variety of angles and through a host of intricate interactions among characters. When all the threads of this colorful tapestry are interwoven, viewers are treated to a thoughtful exploration of the topic, one that provides much food for thought in helping us understand what’s behind our creations and the realities in which they arise. But what I like most about this film’s narrative is its restraint in judging the characters’ intentions. While there certainly are suggestions about which types of intentions might be most preferable, given the current state of the world, the film is also careful not to slam those that might be considered less desirable. I believe that’s because the creators of this picture recognize that, as human beings, we’re all here to learn different life lessons and that all options are equally valid as part of that learning curve. The path to enlightenment has many stops along the way, and we need to visit them all to get to our destination.
Bearing that in mind, some of the intentions explored might seem surprising. For instance, is Kate’s altruism always the proper course for her to follow? Most of us would probably answer “yes” without a second thought. But what if her actions and intentions impeded someone learning a life lesson in something like ingratitude, as is the case with Andra, for example? Her well-meaning intent in such a case might unduly interfere with the experience the other individual is attempting to obtain, and she thus shouldn’t be surprised when her gestures of generosity and thoughtfulness are rebuffed. Now, that’s not to suggest that Kate’s intentions should be shelved; it just means that she needs to redirect her efforts to where they’re genuinely most appreciated, which may be toward someone whom she thinks is undeserving. Clearly, intentions have a wide range of expression, and sooner or later we need to experience them all, no matter how improbable they might initially appear.
In true conscious creation/law of attraction fashion, the practice of examining our intentions once again brings us back to the question of getting clear with ourselves about our beliefs, the driving force behind our intents and, ultimately, the realities we create. Nearly all the characters in this film are in need of doing that, and so, in that regard, the picture provides an in-depth look at how to go about that through the eyes of those searching to understand themselves.
“Please Give” is an enjoyable piece of cinema, neither raucously funny nor tragically dramatic, but a nice way to spend a quiet afternoon at the movies (especially if you’re looking for something other than the typical summertime fare). The performances are all wonderful, but Guilbert is a real stand-out (here’s hoping she’s not forgotten during the awards season). The writing is generally solid, though some elements of the picture seem oddly out of place, such as the opening credits sequence.
Intentions can seem like funny things at times, but the better we understand them, the better off we’ll be in the long run. “Please Give” does a lot to help start us down the right path with that.
Copyright © 2010, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
The effects of questionable intents weigh heavily on the mind of Kate (Catherine Keener, right) in raising her self-absorbed daughter Abby (Sarah Steele, left) in director Nicole Holofcener’s new film, “Please Give.” Photo by Piotr Redlinski, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Cantankerous senior Andra (Ann Guilbert, left) struggles to understand the ways of today’s youth, represented here by self-centered teen Abby in strange camouflage (Sarah Steele, right), in the new release, “Please Give.” Photo by Piotr Redlinski, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Sisters Rebecca (Rebecca Hall, left) and Mary (Amanda Peet, right) wrestle with their feelings toward friends, relatives and one another in the recently released comedy-drama, “Please Give.” Photo by Piotr Redlinski, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.