Thursday 24 June 2010


The new film by Nicole Holofcener is now in cinemas.
More after the jump.

Centering on the lives of two families living in New York City, Catherine Keener stars as the owner of an antiques dealership that specialises in obscure and kitsch items. When somebody's elderly relative dies, Kate (Keener) and her husband Alex (Oliver Platt), offer to buy the antique furniture from the grieving relations at a low price, in order to make a healthy profit when they re-sell it in their store. They have also made an agreement with their 91 year old next-door neighbour to buy her apartment after she dies, but this doesn't go down well with her caring granddaughter Rebecca (Rebecca Hall).

Kate's family is going through multiple crises. As well as having her own guilt-ridden existential dilemma, her husband is having a dalliance with another woman, and her poor pimple covered daughter just wants some jeans that will look nice.

This taps into the guilt of wealthy New Yorkers who after working hard for their money can afford to give their children whatever they want, but also want to contribute to the community around them. Kate feels guilty that she leads a comfortable life, but it may have come at the cost of her conscience. She hands out $20 bills to homeless men on the street much to the annoyance of her daughter, as if it feeds some cosmic karma. She's not a bad person, but she could do with someone telling her that.

Some customers describe Kate and her husband as 'ambulance chasers', and there is that element of waiting for people to die so they can profit from it. This situation is mirrored in the relationship with their neighbour Andra. When she does pass, Kate will be getting a new master bedroom, whilst Rebecca will be in mourning. However Andra is such a stubborn old mule that she may never die, or at least not without a fight.

For Kate it's not so much 'please give' as 'please forgive'. Her failed attempts at volunteering only highlight the luxuries she and her husband have, and add to her guilt complex. She meets a young girl with down's syndrome called Abby just like her daughter, and it sends her into floods of tears. This is a great role for Catherine Keener, who seems to have become adept at playing these artsy mother roles, and who brings a lot of humility to this wealthy but haunted woman.

Oliver Platt's Alex is much more able to justify the mark-ups they put on these dead folk's furniture, and doesn't consider his soul in need of redemption; or, not for that reason. He opts for the traditional male mid-life crisis, and chooses to sleep with another woman, and this does haunt him. He'd love to be radio shock-jock Howard Stern and live the life of a lothario, but clearly loves his wife and daughter too much.

Within the neighbouring family, Amanda Peet's overly tanned Mary is a straight talking bitch who takes after the grandmother, whereas Rebecca is the heart of the family who wants to see the good in others. They both argue over the welfare of Andra, but it's Rebecca who doesn't want to let go of her.

As with Nicole Holofcener's previous films, it's the female characters who are the strongest and most colourful. Ann Morgan Guilbert's straightforward grandmother Andra is a particular highlight, though all the cast deserves praise. 

There is a touch of Woody Allen's social commentary and big city malaise, but with more of a focus on the female characters. There's all ages of womanhood covered, and a variety of different dilemmas. All the women are looking for a way to redeem their souls and perhaps atone for their sins, whether they need saving or not. A highly enjoyable family drama that I expect will see some recognition come awards time.


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