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  Please Give The Guilt Trippers
Year: 2010
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Stars: Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Rebecca Hall, Sarah Steele, Ann Morgan Guilbert, Lois Smith, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Rebecca Budig, Amy Wright, Kevin Corrigan, Josh Pais, Elizabeth Berridge, Maria Barrientos, Jaime Tirelli, Sarah Vowell
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: New Yorker Cathy (Catherine Keener) makes a substantial living working with her husband Alex (Oliver Platt) as they buy furniture and ornaments from bereaved families to sell on at a profit in their shop. Although this leaves her very comfortable in her lifestyle, she still feels crushing guilt about her status in life compared to the less fortunate, and has a habit of handing over bills to the homeless, as well as other gifts, to ameliorate her sense of ill-feeling towards her own good fortune. She and Alex live next door to a woman in her nineties, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), and she feels no less guilt in waiting for her to die...

Not that Andra is in any more poor health than any other elderly woman of that age, but the couple have essentially bought her apartment and when she goes, they get to keep it, with a view to expanding their living space, another reason why Cathy has mixed feelings about her day to day actions. In writer and director Nicole Holofcener's film, the drama is not about heroes and villains, but more about the fact that everyone has the capacity to be both, and that you can act selfishly should not utterly negate all of your better qualities. It is this that Cathy must learn over the course of the film.

It's also something else that Andra's granddaughters must recognise in themselves as well. They are medical worker Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), whose work with mammograms provides an unexpected title sequence, and her beautician sister Mary (Amanda Peet), who are on speaking if not at first overly friendly terms with Cathy and Alex. Indeed, Mary gets on extremely friendly terms with Alex, unbeknownst to his wife, another example of how these characters can operate without thinking through how their activities might look or feel to others. The most unignorable example of this is Andra herself, who has reached the age where she doesn't care how insulting she is.

However, she's not having affairs behind her partner's back, and she's not neglecting her daughter as Cathy is. Abby (Sarah Steele) is a teenager suffering with bad skin, but more than that she, as with a zillion teenage girls before her, doesn't think her mother appreciates her, and this case she's absolutely correct. It's not that Cathy doesn't love her, it's just that she so wrapped up her own non-problems - she really shouldn't be half as guilt-wracked as she is - that Abby doesn't register as much as she should, this in spite of Cathy's need to offer handouts being a substitute for taking care of those she does know, and really should be thinking of more. But again, she is in no way a terrible person.

The issue of the shame of the haves for having more than the have-nots is not often taken seriously in the movies, yet here it fuels the whole story. The conclusion is that you do what you can to make life easier for those you meet, but you balance that with taking care of those close to you, who have earned your respect and should be appreciated for that. Even if they haven't, as happens more than a few times here, does that mean that only saps are nice to others when you could get so much more through looking out for number one? Holofcener doesn't think so, and genuinely likes her characters to the point that while we see them at their worst, which is never completely awful, we can perceive their worth to those they are in contact with, be it living in the same home or passing them on the street every once in a while. Please Give might have been a little slighter than intended, but its sweetness and painful humour were valuable. Music by Marcelos Zarvos.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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