What is Please Give about? The most succinct answer I can muster up is that it is about the simple rhythms of life. It’s about people rubbing up against each other, the neighbors you try and be nice too, but speak about behind closed doors. In writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s fifth collaboration with Catherine Keener, the latter is Kate, a woman who lives a life of uncomfortable dichotomy with her husband and teenage daughter.
Next door is the cranky grandma Andra, who is quite along in age, and she gets assistance from her granddaughters, who are both young professionals. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) works as a radiology technician often spending her days giving mammograms, while her fashionable sister Mary (Amanda Peet) works as a cosmetologist. Their grandmother is not exactly the most agreeable person, and her acerbic nature earns the disdain of Mary and the quiet industriousness of Rebecca. They both have different ways of dealing with other people just as they have different ways of approaching love. Rebecca is quiet and looks for love in a nice young man. Mary constantly checks out the woman who stole her old boyfriend and embroils herself in an affair.
Meanwhile, Kate feels uncomfortable for buying Andra’s flat and waiting for her passing to start renovations. Likewise, in her joint venture with husband Alex, they buy people’s old possessions at estate sales and make major profits on their furniture. These issues along with a rebellious streak in her daughter, make Kate noticeably agitated, and she tries to overcompensate. She gives money to every homeless person she ever sees and tries to volunteer at numerous spots across town without much success.
The film suggests that we can tread a thin line on the margin of what is honest and what is termed “the ways of the world.” After all, if we balance it out with enough good deeds it ends up okay in the end, right? On her part, Kate has an odd way of dealing with her own sense of morality when it comes to her family business and the homeless on the street corner. Her husband is a generally agreeable man, who has no trouble with what they do, but he at least admits it, just like admitting when he flirts with other women.
Above all, I think Please Give boasts interesting female characters, in fact, they are the focal point of Holocener’s story, and it makes for a worthy character study in an industry that is often male-centric. Within these women is hypocrisy, pettiness, and a lot of insecurity, but it manages to be invariably funny as well as perturbing at times.