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Non-Review Review: Please Give

Please Give is an interesting little dramedy, with some very well-observed points and a strong cast. It’s smart, it’s biting and it’s quite funny in places, with its wry commentary on some of the more cynical aspects of the human condition. However, I do find myself wondering why the lead characters, wonderfully superficial and weighted down by various forms of guilt, are really worth caring about at.

No mean Peet...

The story essentially centres around a couple who operate something of a grim industry. They wait like vultures for old people to die, and then swoop in to buy from bereaved relatives. They then sell on that stuff at outrageous prices to people apparently willing to pay for it. “I feel so guilty,” Kate, our lead, suggests as people are willing to fork out huge premiums for furniture picked up at low prices from families mourning a loved one. Of course, the cycle is so vacuous empty that the movie hammers us with mindless American consumerism, with one retailer buying from them at a huge mark-up to put his own huge mark-up on it and sell it on. This is, after all, a world where a pair of jeans cost $200.

And it’s this sort of predatory cynicism – buy low, sell high – that feeds into the social lives of the cast as well. Our leading couple hosts a birthday party for the old lady across the hall, just waiting for her to die so that they can extend their own city apartment. These are people who do nothing but whine and moan, even though the film takes great joy in exploiting their own faults. A lot of this banter is entertaining, but it occasionally veers just a little bit too far into that noxious combination of boring and unlikable, particularly when we know the point the movie is making. At one point, the youngest member of our materialist cast actually mocks people heading out to see the leaves turn. “The leaves? What is with these people? I mean, who gives a sh!t?” It really just feels a little bit too forced and shallow, particularly since we’ve seen this sort of story often enough to know the point already. And it’s not the people who enjoy staring at beautiful scenery who are the real losers, of course.

Having her cake and eating it too...

That said, there are some nice touches that help balance out a lot of the heavy-handed moments. For one thing, there’s Catherine Keener, playing a character who “gets all emotional just walking down the street.” Her guilt overwhelms her, as it does quite a few of the supporting cast – and they all cope in various ways. Kate volunteers for just about any worthy cause and gives obscene amounts of money to homeless people – leading to one hilarious scene where she offers it to a black man waiting for a table. It’s a brilliant little exploration of the type of arrogance such an approach suggests – and the idea that the giving is a selfish act, calculated to make the donor feel better about themselves (and superior to the person receiving the help). It’s well handled, and it’s clever. And Keener does a great job – she’s genuinely an actress who doesn’t get enough work.

The cast is rounded out be skilled performers who manage to give the movie a charm that it’s occasionally too cold and detached to really earn. I’ve always been fond of Rebecca Hall, and I honestly believe that she’s an actress to watch, but Amanda Peet does a great job as one of the more shamelessly self-centred and selfish members of the ensemble. Admittedly, it’s hard to truly like any of the leads, but Peet has great fun making her character a pleasure to hate. It’s the type of energy that the film only occasionally provokes, and is certainly the stronger for it.

Charity cases?

I’m kinda torn on Please Give. It is a smart, well-observed little movie with a great cast. On the other hand, it’s really hard to engage or connect with any of the characters involved in the plot – there’s no reason to care for them. It’s not because they are unlikable, but because quite a few of them are mostly uninteresting.

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