Friends w/Money New York Mag:predictable, favourable review

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Hilary the Touched
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Friends w/Money New York Mag:predictable, favourable review

Post by Hilary the Touched » Mon Apr 03, 2006 5:32 pm

Money Changes Everything
Director Nicole Holofcener takes on another taboo topic.
By David Edelstein

In her second feature, Lovely and Amazing, and her latest, Friends With Money, the writer and director Nicole Holofcener circles in on problems that tend to scare off mainstream American filmmakers—problems often too traumatic even to acknowledge. Women’s obsession with—and estrangement from—their own bodies, for instance. Or, in Friends With Money, what happens in an intensely materialistic culture when longtime gal pals find themselves in vastly different economic brackets.

Holofcener juggles four female friends (three in couples plus a stray): one couple, Franny and Matt (Joan Cusack and Greg Germann), superrich and with nary a care; the second, Jane and Aaron (Frances McDormand and Simon McBurney), prosperous but with unspoken sexual tensions; and the third, Christine and David (Catherine Keener and Jason Isaacs), well-off but striving, and adding a story to their house as if to compensate for a marriage that’s dead and buried. The stray is Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), a near-penniless ex-teacher who is reduced to cadging free cosmetic samples from department stores. (What an interesting subtext there must have been on the set, since Aniston probably has more money than all the other actors combined.) The couples discuss one another in car rides home: Christine thinks the effeminate clotheshorse Aaron is gay, gay, gay. Jane reports that David and Christine haven’t had sex in a year. Franny wants to fix up Olivia—and does, with her brazenly sexist fitness instructor (Scott Caan). But what aimless Olivia really needs is a nice guy with money.

It’s a plus and a minus in her films that Holofcener never explicitly Calls the Question. She spares you ham-handed revelatory monologues and rap sessions—as in, say, Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, which stops for a female colloquium on interracial dating. The downside is that Friends With Money doesn’t quite snap into focus. It just floats along—an agreeable comedy of manners with actors you like to hang out with.

Aniston has always been a nonstarter on the big screen, but her rather mushy passivity works well for Olivia—in part because, as in Friends, she has a histrionic ensemble to take the weight off her. The heart of all of Holofcener’s movies is Keener, whose persona strikes the perfect balance between confidence and vulnerability: She’s warily accommodating but too well defended (and quick-witted, and prickly) to surrender to the male will. McDormand’s Jane is this film’s injustice collector—a successful fashion designer who has thrown in the towel on her own appearance and sees signs everywhere of the world’s indifference. And if Franny seems a bit of a drip (money has fuzzed her head), Cusack makes her ether ethereally funny.

Holofcener builds scenes around motifs that resonate marvelously, like the screenplay on which Christine and David collaborate, in which his male and her female character turn out to be in different movies. Only the most exacting alpha-male would complain that Friends With Money doesn’t jell. Warm, female-centric, socially conscious comedies with juicy parts—characters you want to talk about—for fortysomething actresses don’t grow on Hollywood palm trees.

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