“Please Give” comes from the writer/director of “Friends With Money”, Nicole Holofcener and while that movie explored themes of being rich and how the wealth is spread around through charity and what they weren’t willing to spend money on, this one goes a similar route. “Please Give” explores a series of people who either are in need or have the capacity to give something needed to others and figuring out if they are doing it for the good of the recipient or just to ease their own selfish guilt/pity/sorrow. Most specifically, two granddaughters deal with their rude aging grandmother while her next-door neighbors who have purchased her apartment are technically waiting for her to pass away so they can renovate and the guilt of swooping in afterward begins to get to some of them.
Rebecca Hall plays Rebecca and seems to be the only faultless character of the cast. She works in mammography and tends to her 91 year old grandmother on a daily basis along with caring for her dog and cleaning her apartment. Rebecca is shy and only seems to work for others and takes no time for herself and wants to be the peacekeeper always. The intimacy of her job takes so much out of her that she clams up and stays reserved around others until one patient’s son takes a special interest.
Rebecca’s sister, Mary played by Amanda Peet puts so much emphasis on her own surface value that she never develops much beneath it. Mary is rude to her grandmother on the excuse that the old woman is mean. Mary seems directionless except for maintaining her tan and trying to find out what is so special about the woman her ex left her for and trying to tear her down to make herself feel better. Amanda Peet is scary talented at being cold and beautiful. Her logic for her behavior toward her grandmother only foreshadows how she herself will be treated in old age since she seems to be on the fast track to that bitterness.
Catherine Keener’s character, Kate appears to carry the weight of the suffering of the world on her shoulders. She feels so much guilt, pity, and grief when confronted with death and misfortune that the only way to quell some of that is to give back with money to homeless people on the street and others that she mistakenly assumes to be just for standing around outside bundled up. Kate attempts to volunteer her time for the less fortunate, but the emotion is too much to handle it. She is in a business of buying and reselling antique furniture, but feels so badly for the people whom she buys from that it begins to affect her reasoning and business sense.
Catherine’s husband, Alex is played by Oliver Platt sees no problem with the business they run together as he views it unemotionally (It’s not personal, it’s business) and even gives Kate an out that she can go do other things if she wants and can’t handle it here. He is exasperated with her wishy-washyness and stubborn purchase of occasionally worthless pieces because she felt bad for someone. They work well together as partners, but this added stress makes him seek out an escape. He only has a minor role to play in the course of the film as with Holofcener’s other films, this one focuses on women, their viewpoint, and their relationships with others.
Their daughter, Abby played by Sarah Steele has her own issues with being a teenager with bad skin and wants to ally herself with beautiful Mary and embrace her ideals. All she yearns for throughout the movie is a pair of $235 jeans and the way she blows up at her mother when they go shopping or walk down the street is cringe-inducing and sadly accurate to high school mood swings. Abby goes so far as to snatch a bill out of the hand of a street person Kate just donated to under the objection that her mother worries more about perfect strangers than the needs of her own family. Uh…That is an interesting discussion point.
Each character goes on a journey and ends in a different place than where they started, but as far as commentary on the subject of charity and giving, it seems we are being left up to our own discussions without a direct moral message for the audience. I was left with mixed feelings about the film and felt it lacked the focus to really drive home the objective.