Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Video review: "Please Give"

Kate, a thriving New York City businesswoman, offers a man her dinner leftovers, plaintively asking if he is hungry. He is late middle age, African-American, and his clothes have seen better days.

The beatific expression of pity on Kate's face is shattered when the man nods toward the swank restaurant in front of him. "I'm waiting for a table," he says haughtily.

This delicious scene represents the essence of "Please Give," a black comedy from writer/director Nicole Holofcener about how sometimes even charity is selfish.

Kate, well-played by Catherine Keener, is hooked on pity. She doles out $20 bills to the homeless, but won't buy her teen daughter the expensive pair of jeans she's dying for. Kate volunteers at a nursing home, but is asked to leave after a few hours because her fretful concern for the aged residents brings them down.

She and husband Alex (a spot-on Oliver Platt) run a business selling vintage furniture they bought off the bereaved offspring of the recently dead, who didn't know what they had. Perhaps Kate's runaway giving is an unconscious offset for their outrageous markups.

Their next-door neighbor is 91-year-old Andra, whose space Kate and Alex will take over whenever she kicks off. Andra has two granddaughters: Rebecca and Mary (Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet, respectively) who are mirror images of altruism. Rebecca gives so much of herself there isn't much left for a real life, while Mary is following in Andra's nasty, self-centered footsteps.

"Please Give" is filled with delightful performances, but I found it hard to connect with any of the characters. The film's deeper theme seems to be about how people can be generous on the one hand and cutthroat on the other.

For Kate, everything's a competition -- even who can be the nicest to the less fortunate.

Video goodies are not so good.

The extras are rather minimal. There's a roundup of outtakes from production, a behind-the-scenes tour on the set, and clips from a Q&A with Holofcener.

Anyone else see the irony of a movie called "Please Give" being released with measly set of bonus features?

Movie: 2.5 stars out of four
Extras: 1.5 stars

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