To me a new film from writer/director Nicole Holofcener is a reason to rejoice. One reason is because she unapologetically tells stories from a female perspective. But one would be remiss and quite frankly an idiot to paint her work with the chick flick brush just because her film’s are told from a female point of view.
One clear difference is that she opens her film with a daring montage of (real) boobs being shoved into the mammogram machine. Women of a certain age will all shake their heads in recognition and I would bet that many men will wince seeing what those ominous machines actually look like.
Holofcener’s story centers around Kate played by her alter ego/muse Catherine Keener. Kate feels guilt about everything. She feels guilty for having money so she gives money to homeless people on the street. She feels guilty for having a successful business where she buys supposed crap from estate sales and jacks up the prices and sells it to snotty New Yorkers. She feels guilty that she has a nice apartment and another apartment in waiting that they will take over when the elderly neighbor next door dies. You’ve heard of free floating anxiety. Kate has free floating guilt. It’s about race. It’s about being a girl. It’s about everything.
Rebecca Hall plays Rebecca, a mammography technician and the granddaughter of Andra the woman living in the apartment next to Kate and her husband Alex played by Oliver Platt. She’s a beautiful young woman who spends most of time time taking care of her crabby and mean grandmother with her equally mean and stalkerish sister Mary played by Amanda Peet. Mary thinks she is the shit walking around with her orange tan, but she rivals her miserable grandmother as the saddest person in the film.
I saw the film several week’s ago and the performance that has stayed with me is the one of Sarah Steele as Kate and Alex’s teenage daughter Abby. Abby is miserable. She has a face full of acne and her mother is oblivious to her pain. And the thing about Steele is that you actually can feel Abby’s pain and desperation. Your heart just breaks for her when she comes to dinner with a pair of underwear on her head because she has a huge zit on her face. I had remembered Steele from her wonderful performance as Tea Leoni’s daughter in Spanglish. In that film she also struggled with her mother and spent the movie dealing with body issues. This young woman has created two of the most richly defined teenage girls on camera. She’s as good as America Ferrara was in Real Women Have Curves.
What I admire about Holofcener is that she’s not afraid to make her characters unlikeable. Her films are about real people, people you might see on the street, or people you might know and quite frankly there are a lot of unlikeable and miserable people out there.
As I wrote the other day, Holofcener’s body of work is really a diary of women coming of age after the feminist revolution of the 70s. She has told stories of women in their 20s (Walking and Talking), 30s Lovely and Amazing and 40s Friends with Money and now Please Give. I can’t wait for her take on the next stage of life.