It’s so refreshing to encounter difficult people.
Well, perhaps not in real life — but the customary wisdom of Hollywood is that movie characters must be rounded-off to be “likable” in order for us to follow their stories, and it gets a little tiresome to see these bland types in so many movies.
In the films of Nicole Holofcener, part of the appeal is meeting folks who are difficult and cranky. The characters in Holofcener’s new film, “Please Give,” are all too prone to indulging in catty remarks, clumsy behavior and occasional greed. They seem a lot like real people, in short.
Kate (Catherine Keener) and her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), run a pricey Manhattan antique store. Maybe it’s too much to suggest that they take a vulturelike attitude toward estate sales and the possessions of grieving survivors, but let’s just say they don’t miss any opportunities to buy cheap.
They live next door to an elderly lady, Andra (Ann Guilbert), whose apartment they will purchase when Andra dies. That’s how they get to know Andra’s granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet).
As in her films “Lovely &Amazing” and “Walking and Talking,” Holofcener zeroes in on women in a particularly microscopic way. Rebecca is a thoughtful lab technician, while her sister Mary is as shallow as her salon-created tan.
We can deduce why they’re having problems in their lives if their awful grandma is any indication of familial warmth. Meanwhile, Kate is torn by her guilt pangs about social issues (especially the homeless), while her teenage daughter begs Kate for frivolously expensive new clothes.
These days Holofcener’s movies are the closest thing going to prime-era Woody Allen, smart portraits of upscale people trying to sort out the mess they’ve made of their lives. She’s very good at making these people funny.
“Please Give” scatters many keen observations along the way, and it offers juicy opportunities for Keener and Peet. Tall, round-eyed Rebecca Hall, who starred in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” once again distinguishes herself as one of those actors with the ability to convey thinking on screen.
I wasn’t entirely certain what Holofcener means with the film’s final scenes, which I took as ambiguous and downbeat but which are presented as something of a happy ending. But for most of its running time “Please Give” is an amusing take on less-than-perfect people.