QUEENS OF COMEDY; Catherine Keener Is One of the Funniest Actresses Alive and with Indie Director Nicole Holofcener Delivers a Grown-Up Comedy about Middle-Class Guilt; FILM OF THE WEEK

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 18, 2010 | Go to article overview

QUEENS OF COMEDY; Catherine Keener Is One of the Funniest Actresses Alive and with Indie Director Nicole Holofcener Delivers a Grown-Up Comedy about Middle-Class Guilt; FILM OF THE WEEK


Byline: Andrew O'Hagan

PLEASE GIVE Cert 15, 90 mins MIDDLE-class guilt is one of the great modern subjects. It doesn't happen to everybody, but it's true that some people who have lots of stuff also have lots of shame, feeding off an inner sense of superiority. Charities can do well to exploit this condition, and they do, but there have probably been too few movies to laugh at it or show how ridiculous the condition is.

So welcome, Please Give. This is a subtle, quirky, and very funny movie about the do-gooder classes. It sparks laughter by crossing the wires of human motivation, letting you see the hazards that exist in trying to be a good person.

Kate and Alex live in New York and they make their living from selling off the furniture left by people when they die. Often, the children of such people have no idea how beautiful or valuable the furniture is -- in this case, mainly Fifties stuff -- so our friends, the dealers, make hay, as it were, while the son shies. They pretend to know nothing of the furniture's value and then sell it off at a massive mark-up from their store on Tenth Avenue.

This is exploitative, obviously, and Kate has a tendency to feel guilty about it. "Your guilt is warping you," says Alex at one point.

"Why isn't it warping you?" she replies. Kate tries to accommodate the bad feeling by acting like your classic, conflicted, prosperous person who has deep feelings about the poor. In one hilarious moment in the street, she tries to give some takeaway leftovers to a black man. It turns out he's waiting in line for a table at the restaurant.

Kate is played by the wonderful Catherine Keener, one of the funniest actresses on the planet, and Alex by the brilliantly homely Oliver Platt. When she commits that particular faux pas, Keener emits a little shocked exclamation, piling guilt on top of guilt, and Platt is immediately at her back echoing her apologies and wincing.

This is terrific human stuff. Director Nicole Holofcener is a favourite of the indie circuit, and, with this film, she's made something that should hit home in a big way with the people watchers of the Obama era.

Being deeply caring is a tricky business when the caring tends strictly to play to your advantage, and the film winkles out every nuance of that problem, seeing this New York couple really struggling -- and often failing-- to weigh their own good lives against the lives of the not-solucky.

Of course, Kate traps herself in standard behaviour, being patronising and often mawkish in her earnest way, but you like her nonetheless and feel this social satire is so busy eviscerating her that you can afford to pity her a little.

Our couple have a teenage daughter Abbie (Sarah Steele) who just can't get with her parents' problems. She wants new jeans and won't buy into her mother's issue, which is that it's obscene to spend so much on jeans when there are 45 homeless people living on their street. …

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QUEENS OF COMEDY; Catherine Keener Is One of the Funniest Actresses Alive and with Indie Director Nicole Holofcener Delivers a Grown-Up Comedy about Middle-Class Guilt; FILM OF THE WEEK
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