Writer/director Nicole Holofcener is no stranger to Sundance, her 1996 romantic drama "Walking and Talking" debuted in the festival's Dramatic Competition. Fast forward 14 years where she debuted her latest "Please Give" in the festival's Premieres section Friday night at Park City's Eccles Theatre.
Like "Walking," Holfcener's latest stars Catherine Keener who caused a minor stir as she walked to her seat ahead of the screening as audience members and a couple of volunteers asked the actress to pose for photos - and she smilingly obliged, though later in the evening photos were a bit more of a 'no-no' at a dinner event for the film. Keener plays a mother and wife who owns a successful business selling furniture with her husband (Oliver Platt) that they obtain through estate sales.
The couple live with their daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele) in a Manhattan aparment. They own the apartment next door which they would like to combine with their own, but they must wait for the cranky tenant next door (Ann Morgan Guilbert) to die. The wait becomes a bit complex as the couple develop a relationship with the old woman's grown granddaughters (Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall).
Holofcener's smart and entertaining script deftly combines sass, issues of self-esteem, commitment, body issues and contradicting moral ambiguity, which brings dynamism and sparks to the crowd pleaser. Sony Pictures Classics came on board early in the production's process, and the script was a big lure for the actors in wanting to take part in the film.
"I really think it's in the writing," said actress Amanda Peet who plays the sharp-mouthed sister Mary. "I've played a fair amount of bitches in my life, and I don't think Nicole could write a one-dimensional character if she tried. I thought [Mary] had a lot of heart."
Oliver Platt received additional applause for playing the husband, Alex, opposite Keener, and though he cheats on his wife with Mary, the depth of his character endeared him to the crowd Friday night. He also said that mere words and language in the script contained more meaning below the surface. "One of the most beautiful thing about the script is as the scenes go along, people might be talking about furniture [for instance] but there is so much more happening."
"It all started with this apartment situation where these neighbors were waiting for a tenant to die," said Holofcener about the inspiration for the plot. "That was the starting off place, and then it was also a bunch of things going on in my life."
She also reached into her past, giving the teen daughter Abby acne problems, something she could relate to. "I had really bad skin as a teenager, and something like that makes you who you are. It can be a horrible time being a teen, and pimples are something seemingly small but it can be such a big problem."
Keener paid tribute to Holofcener and Sundance itself, saying she's attracted to multi-dimensional stories and characters, traits celebrated by the festival.
"I'll go after a job with a director I respect a lot, and it so happens that I end up being here."
Sony Pictures Classics will release "Please Give" in the U.S. beginning in April.