The Films of Nicole Holofcener
Walking and Talking
Lovely & Amazing (July 12/02)
Lovely & Amazing casts Brenda Blethyn as a woman whose three daughters (played by Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, and Raven Goodwin) suffer from various problems, with the majority of the film devoted to their efforts at coping with their lives and each another. Lovely & Amazing doesn't contain much in the way of plot, but the movie generally works thanks to the outstanding performances and filmmaker Nicole Holofcener's authentic-sounding dialogue. Holofcener does a spectacular job of developing each of the central characters - all of whom are thoroughly unhappy and plagued with their own specific neuroses and problems. In the film's most uncomfortable sequence, Mortimer's Elizabeth strips before a pompous actor (played brilliantly by Dermot Mulroney) and asks him to point out all her flaws. We watch as he does exactly that, and Elizabeth's confidence slowly fades away. The other characters don't fare any better, particularly Keener's Michelle. Having never held an actual job due to her fading dream of making a living with her art, Michelle is certainly the bitterest in the bunch. And as embodied by Keener, an actress who's cornered the market in playing sardonic and sarcastic characters, she's a woman who's only response to constructive criticism is a biting rejoinder. But Holofcener just plum runs out of things for her characters to do somewhere around the 70-minute mark, and subsequently begins throwing in inexplicable plot twists that affect both Michelle and Elizabeth. Without giving anything away, it becomes increasingly clear that Holofcener has a certain amount of disdain for these people; her refusal to allow them to find happiness doesn't really gel with the rest of the film. Adding to that annoyance is a conclusion that doesn't resolve a single issue that preceded it, and instead poses more questions than it answers. Still, the film is certainly worth checking out - if only for the fantastic performances and its refreshingly dark sensibility.
Friends With Money
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Friends With Money follows several characters - including Jennifer Aniston's Olivia, Catherine Keener's Christine, and Frances McDormand's Jane - as they're forced to confront (and deal with) a whole host of financial and personal problems. While there's certainly no denying that Friends With Money has been uniformly suffused with genuinely affecting performances, the film nevertheless remains oddly uninvolving for the majority of its brisk running time. This is undoubtedly due to the shifting emphasis on the various characters; as some of these people are more fascinating than others, Holofcener's decision to spend only a few minutes at a time with any given figure becomes increasingly problematic. There's little doubt that Aniston's Olivia undergoes the most poignant arc over the course of the film, and though there's a third-act development that's just a little too convenient, it's difficult not to feel a small sense of relief as she ultimately manages to find happiness. As a low-key, far less melancholy riff on Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, Friends With Money generally succeeds - though Holofcener is simply unable to replicate Anderson's ability to engender an emotional response within the viewer at any given point.
A tremendous leap forward for filmmaker Nicole Holofcener, Please Give follows several figures - including Catherine Keener's Kate, Rebecca Hall's Rebecca, and Oliver Platt's Alex - as their lives intersect and collide in unanticipated ways over the course of several weeks. Holofcener's tendency to eschew plot in favor of character development works far better here than it has in her previous endeavors, as the writer/director has populated the movie with a uniformly captivating selection of protagonists who inevitably become figures worthy of the viewer's sympathy and interest. The ongoing emphasis on the various characters' exploits is heightened by the efforts of a seriously impressive cast, with folks like Keener and Platt offering up career-best work in an endeavor that boasts strong performances from even the most minor of players (ie Ann Morgan Guilbert's memorable turn as Rebecca's cranky grandmother). And like Holofcener's last movie, 2006's Friends With Money, Please Give often feels like a cinematic cousin to Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia - as the narrative has been populated with individuals that are all miserable in their own way (which consequently ensures that the film packs a palpable emotional punch as the myriad storylines are wrapped up). The end result is an authentic, consistently compelling piece of work that finally (and firmly) cements Holofcener's place as a filmmaker worth following, with the movie ultimately standing as one of the most engrossing and flat-out moving dramas to hit theaters in quite some time.