I watched writer-director Nicole Holofcener's Please Give a couple of weeks back and since then I’ve been thinking of writing this post. This is sort of a ‘what-this-movie-is-about-and-why-does-it-make-me-write-this-post’ post. It is a story about a well heeled present day New York couple, Kate and Alex (Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt).
In this era of really complex storytelling, Please Give is one of those films where nothing much happens. It is too self-indulgent, full of dialogues and follows linear storytelling. But it is as charming as life is, warts and all. It’s got its selfish, guilty, passionate and morbid moments.
It is set in present day New York. But it could have been a story of any metropolis in any part of the world. It is so much our story. We, the children of the new world, who make more money than all the family members of our previous generation combined . We, who are fighting this daily fight of being part of this dog-eat-dog world and yet want to believe that somewhere we are good people. I don’t think anybody likes to believe himself or herself as a bad person. We all got reasons to justify any shit we do in life.
Kate and Alex run a business selling overpriced retro furniture to upper class hip people of the city. Furniture which they buy as scrap from the unsuspecting people selling off their dead parents ‘useless stuff’ and hoping to make some money in the bargain.
The business is doing fine, swindling off people of their priceless furniture. But then again, Kate is saddled with this desire to do something good. Maybe she’s saddled with her guilt of bilking people and wants to redeem herself. So she hands out generous dollars to the homeless in the street. But at the same time, she wishes the next door old lady dead, so that she can buy her apartment and combine it with hers. Kate’s character likes to believe that the old lady lived a sad life, no matter if she actually did. But she needs to believe so, maybe to feel good about her own life. She needs to do something to feel good about herself. She doles out 20 dollars to a homeless but denies her teenaged daughter a 200 dollar pair of denims. Because somewhere she likes to believe she is middle class, rooted to the downtrodden. Even Nita Ambani and Shahrukh Khan like to indulge themselves in that belief, no matter what obscene depths of money they are in. There has to be a redemption about being the way you are. Sounds familiar, isn’t it? It does to me.
I loved Please Give because it is such a comment on how our heart is. How we really are and how we like to believe we are. Clueless but clued in. Selfish and generous. All that makes us human. It is in the same school as a Woody Allen film. Or a Satyajit Ray, or a Ritoporno Ghosh, or a Dibakar Banerjee film.( I know, somewhere some bengali is rubbing his palms, grinning, that all the references are of bong directors…hehehe). All the directors and storytellers adept at dwelling into the finer nuances of human mind and heart.
Ok, coming back to the film, Nicole Holofcener writes strong women characters. And she manages to take out some brilliant performances out of her actors, specially the female characters. Even in this film all actors, especially the women, outshine their male counterparts. Whether it is Kate’s gawky 15 year old daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), or the controlled radiologist Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and spa attendant Mary (Amanda Peet) – or their ailing and sharp-tongued grandmother (Ann Guilbert). But the one who really is most amazing is Catherine Keener as Kate. I must confess that I never much liked her, unlike Priti who forever did. In fact, i almost hated her. That’s maybe because I always saw her enacting these very strong women characters. But I saw her as the mother in Where The Wild Things Are, and now in Please Give, both parts where she is vulnerable and yet strong. And I have to confess that I am in love with her. Maybe that’s how all love stories begin. With a certain dislike and resistance towards a potent force and then a complete surrender.
Please Give is kind of movie which is critical of us but at the same time is sympathetic to us. All it’s doing is showing us that what we really are. Human, with all our flaws and shortcomings, far from the idealist picture of this righteous person we carry in our heads.
So if you can lay your hands on it, please watch Please Give.