(director/writer: Nicole Holofcener; cinematographer: Yaron Orbach; editor: Robert Frazen; music: Marcelo Zarvos; cast: Catherine Keener (Kate), Amanda Peet (Mary), Oliver Platt (Alex), Rebecca Hall (Rebecca), Ann Morgan Guilbert (Andra), Lois Smith (Mrs. Portman), Sarah Steele (Abby), Thomas Ian Nicholas (Eugene); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Anthony Bregman; Sony Pictures Classics; 2010)
Ms. Holofcener’s observant talky comedy resonates with plenty of oomph as a believable modern-day fable about urban life.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Nicole Holofcener (“Friends With Money”/”Lovely & Amazing”/”Walking and Talking”) is writer-director of this tender comic drama about living and dying in Manhattan with or without a guilt-trip.There’s nothing special about this slight storyline, but Ms. Holofcener’s observant talky comedyresonates with plenty of oomph as a believable modern-day fable about urban life. It works so well because the Noo Yawkish dialogue is fresh and the ensemble cast is so down to earth. Catherine Keener, Ms. Holofcener’s alter ego, makes her seemingly hypocritical materialistic neurotic character multi-dimensionaland contradictory without batting an eyelash, as she wrestles with her conscience of how to be a good person and also live a life of privilege. The other characters are drawn up more limited, but complement Keener as she veers from a bleeding heart liberal to a cunning businesswoman who knows how to make a buck.

Middle-aged contented couple, Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt), live with their overweight 15-year-old daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) in a comfortable Upper East Side building and operate a vintage furniture store on 12th Avenue, where at estate sales (mostly from the children of dead people) they buy on the cheap and sell the stuff at their store at outrageous marked-up high prices. They live next-door to the 91-year-old mean-spirited Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), a sourpuss who has a bad word for everyone. Andra is cared for by her sweet single plain-looking withdrawn younger granddaughter Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who works as a mammogram X-ray technician. The bitchy older pretty single granddaughter Mary (Amanda Peet) gives facials at a spa, and cares only about herself–almost never looking after granny and never feeling guilty.Their mom committed suicide and their father abandoned them, as the girls were raised in childhood by granny–which might explain their personality defects.

Kate and Alex have an agreement with Andra to buy her condo on her death, hoping to expand their already spacious apartment. But they feel like vultures waiting for her to die, and thereby make an effort to know her better and be more friendly by occasionally running errands and inviting her and her granddaughters over to their place to celebrate granny’s birthday. That leads to both the blotchy-skinned Abby and the flirty Alex getting facials from Mary, with Alex entering into an affair of convenience with the cold-hearted Mary that has no sparks or conviction.

Kate is so embarrassed by her comfortable lifestyle that she is too generous in giving hand-outs to all the homeless panhandlers in her neighborhood, but overreacts against her daughter’s materialistic ambitions; especially dead-set on giving her $200 to buy designer jeans.

One of Rebecca’s cancer patients (Lois Smith) fixes her up with her nice-boy computer savvy grandson (Thomas Ian Nicholas), and things work out well for the two likable social awkward types.It’s the first time we see Rebecca smile.

The film presents no overwhelming problems to overcome, it just points out that city living has its demands and that it’s alright for the rich yuppies to live in comfortable digs and buy expensive gifts. In the end Holofcener imparts no wisdom, makes no judgments on her troubled characters and the film ends without asking any hardball questions (therefore getting no noteworthy answers). What it does go out of its way to point out, is that the more gentle characters are more likable than the selfish ones whose heart’s are closed to others, even if the self-absorbed types in the film are more interesting than the nice ones. Please Give makes its mark by not trying to be profound, but by just trying to keep things real and giving some tough love to the readers of the New Yorker.