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Film Club: 'Please Give'

Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt are a married couple in Nicole Holofcener's "Please Give"
Sony Pictures Classics
Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt are a married couple in Nicole Holofcener's "Please Give"

New Film From Nicole Holofcener

Nicole Holofcener has won acclaim for a series of small but carefully crafted films about women. But don't call her films "chick flicks." They are much more than that. Listen to our discussion of her latest work, "Please Give" (opening May 7 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas).

In our discussion, Holofcener is compared to Woody Allen but upon reflection she may have more in common with Martin Scorsese. Okay that may sound unlikely but what they share -- in differing degrees -- is a willingness to focus on people that are not necessarily likable or sympathetic. That's an uncommon trait. So many filmmakers want to ingratiate themselves with viewers and make them feel comfortable. But Holofcener is more concerned with capturing a truth about her characters than trying to make them appealing. To me that's a strength. But in terms of winning a wider audience, that can be seen more as a marketing challenge.

"Please Give" is not a feel good film but it's a feels real film. Holofcener has a gift for creating uncomfortably believable characters. She's also blessed with a gifted cast (most notably Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, and Ann Guilbert) that can create flawed, well-rounded characters.

Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet are sisters in "Please Give"
Sony Pictures Classics
Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet are sisters in "Please Give"

Here's what we talked about on the Film Club, positive response form all the participants.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, for something completely different, a new movie by Nicole Holofcener, the director of “Lovely & Amazing,” and “Friends with Money.” It’s called “Please Give.” In this film set in Manhattan, we meet two sisters living with their dying grandmother, and we meet Kate and Oliver, the couple who live next door. They are waiting for grandma to die so they can break through the wall to expand their apartment. That plan is just one of the many things making Kate feel guilty and depressed; another thing is her relationship with her daughter. In this clip, Kate, played by Catherine Keener, tries to give $20 to a homeless man and her daughter Abby protests.

(audio of clip from the film “Please Give”)

CAVANAUGH: That is a scene from the movie “Please Give,” and, Anders, Nicole Holofcener has become known for a certain kind of film, as I said, direct “Friends with Money,” “Lovely & Amazing.” There are common elements in her work. Describe her films for us.

ANDERS WRIGHT (City Beat): Well, the most common element is undoubtedly Catherine Keener.


WRIGHT: And I would say that, in fact, Catherine Keener, in some ways, both defined her films and is defined by them. Holofcener, actually, has made…

CAVANAUGH: Holofcener…


CAVANAUGH: Thank you.

WRIGHT: That’s all right. She’s made four movies and Catherine Keener has starred in all four of them. And they’re small films about people sort of dealing with the stuff that people deal with as they go through life. I liked this movie much more than I did the last one, “Friends with Money,” mostly because I’ve sort of looked at these films and, you know, the first one “Walking and Talking” was sort of about, you know, you’re in your twenties, you’re in Manhattan, you’re sort of trying to make a go of it. “Friends with Money” was sort of like you’ve had some success, you live in LA, and I couldn’t really relate to that one quite as much. But this one is about, you know, you’re approaching middle age or you’ve hit it, and you’re feeling guilty about your place in the world and trying to make the world a slightly better place, and those are things that we all sort of deal with and she manages to sort of tap into those kind of emotional realities that are on people’s minds and give them personalities.

CAVANAUGH: Beth, Scott, anything you’d like to add to this…


CAVANAUGH: …to Anders’ description?

MARKS: No, I have nothing to say. That’s – Sorry. Sorry.

CAVANAUGH: I don’t believe that’s true, Scott.

MARKS: You know, the reason I liked this film was because this is one of my favorite genres. You don’t like any of the characters in this movie. They’re vultures, they’re mean people. It was so good to see Ann Guilbert. If you don’t know, Ann Guilbert was Millie Helper on the old “Dick Van Dyke Show.” She’s in her nineties now and she plays the cantankerous grandmother. And everybody’s talking about let’s get Betty White to host “Saturday Night Live.” No, I want Ann Guilbert.

Ann Guilbert (Millie from the old "Dick Van Dyke Show") plays the grandmother
Sony Pictures Classics
Ann Guilbert (Millie from the old "Dick Van Dyke Show") plays the grandmother


MARKS: She is so funny in this movie and so sharp and so nasty. And the way people interact in this movie is just fascinating…

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm.


MARKS: …to watch. I mean, that’s what really held me. This is an actors’ film. I don’t think she’s that – she has – Holofcener?

WRIGHT: Holofcener.

CAVANAUGH: Holofcener. Holof...

MARKS: Holofcener. Oh, yeah, it would be Yiddish. Holofcener. I don’t think she’s a visual stylist. I mean, in fact, I know she’s not a visual stylist because I’ve seen all four of her movies, but she has a great way with characters. The dialogue is right on.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, dialogue is great.

MARKS: And she has this wonderfully dark sense of humor. Any film that opens up with women getting mammograms with this wonderful catchy little toe-tapping song underneath it, and it’s there for a point. Everything in this film is here for a point. So, yeah, I think that this is a great way to drop your eleven bucks.

CAVANAUGH: Beth, we have to take a break but would you just like to add anything about this?

ACCOMANDO: No, I agree. I mean, I think the thing I love about her films is the dialogue and the way she reveals character in this very kind of graceful, subtle way. And I like the fact that they are not—they are not—likable people. They are flawed and, you know, they’re not always admirable, so I…

MARKS: All of them.

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm.


MARKS: All of them.

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm.

ACCOMANDO: I mean, they’re not horrible…

MARKS: No, they’re not horrible. No, they’re not hateful.

ACCOMANDO: I mean, I don’t think they’re horrible people but they’re…

MARKS: No, they’re not hateful, no.

Rebecca Hall, Ann Guilbert, Amanda Peet and Catherine Keener in "Please Give"
Sony Pictures Classics
Rebecca Hall, Ann Guilbert, Amanda Peet and Catherine Keener in "Please Give"

ACCOMANDO: …they’re definitely flawed and they definitely have pretensions about themselves and – but it’s just great to watch these characters because you just feel like you get to know them so well and sometimes you don’t want to know them that well in a certain way. I…

WRIGHT: Well, and they’re all struggling but what they’re struggling with is themselves.

CAVANAUGH: My guests for the KPBS Film Club of the Air are Beth Accomando, Scott Marks, and Anders Wright. And we were just talking about the new film by Nicole Holofcener called “Please Give,” and talking about what her work might have in common with the work of Woody Allen because there’s been some comparisons drawn between the two. And I’m wondering, Beth, I’ll go to you because I had to cut you off before. Do you see any of those comparisons?

ACCOMANDO: I mean, I suppose in the sense of these being very kind of character driven stories with a focus on dialogue and that they’re smartly, you know, scripted. But tonally, I don’t really see them being exactly the same. I mean, I think she’s a little more unique.

WRIGHT: It seems to me like someone’s trying to stretch to find a…


WRIGHT: …category to put her into.


WRIGHT: But it’s more like the Woody Allen movies from the seventies or eighties, maybe, yeah.



MARKS: Woody Allen hires better cinematographers.

CAVANAUGH: All right then. So what are – Is this – this – This movie surrounds the idea of women. Women, women, women. But is it a woman’s movie, Scott?

ACCOMANDO: It’s not a chick flick.

MARKS: No, no, that’s – No, that’s “Letters to Julia,” if you…


MARKS: …want to see Oliver Platt really crash and burn in a Miller film. No, you know, and I hate that term ‘chick flick.’


MARKS: A good movie…

CAVANAUGH: I do, too.

MARKS: …is a good movie is a good movie.


MARKS: And what would that make a – what would that make “Deliverance?” A Richard flick? I mean, I don’t understand this. So, no, I don’t think this is a chick flick and I think it’s a very clever, funny movie. And I think it’s something that people would like to see.

WRIGHT: Yeah, it’s a character driven film.

MARKS: Yeah.


WRIGHT: And you just don’t see many movies like this sort of hit the inside of the theaters these days.

CAVANAUGH: “Please Give” opens at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas on May seventh. Now the last movie that we’re going to be talking about and actually we’re going to have to sort of power through it. I think that we can.

"Please Give" is rated R for language and some sexual content.

Companion viewing: "Friends With Money," "Being John Malkovich," "Lovely and Amazing"