Please Give is the latest from Nicole Holofcener and I’ve always been a big fan of her quirky, character driven, ensemble stories that often remind me of Woody Allen in all of his neurotic New York Sunday go to meeting finest. However, I’m afraid that this one didn’t quite do it for me. I found it, like all her films, to be the work of someone obviously intelligent and talented and who has a vision. My main issue is that all the characters in the film were speaking without a filter, saying exactly what they were thinking without any regard to commonly accepted social protocol. Witty as everyone was, let’s just say that it didn’t quite strike a believable cord with me (more like staircase rudeness in many ways). However, in the movie’s defense, I went with my friend Jim who liked it for the exact reason I had problems with it. He loved these people saying exactly what they meant and even reminded me that at one point, when Andra, a woman of languishing years to say the least, comments that her granddaughter’s date is shorter than she is, I whispered to him, “Well, she’s only saying what we’re all thinking”. Of course, this character is 91 years old and showing signs of diminished capacity; I wasn’t sure what everyone else’s excuses were. The other issue I had was with the character of Kate, played wonderfully by Holofcener regular Catherine Keener. Whether intentional or not, Holofcener seemed to go out of her way to mock or make fun of Keener’s obsession with helping others and how emotionally difficult and draining it is for her. The implication is this is a satirical comment on middle class guilt. It might be if Kate didn’t show such textbook symptoms of clinical depression, a physical inability to bounce back from negative emotions in the way that most people are able to. Everyone, including Holofcener, sees Kate’s actions as something to make fun of, something annoying or even hypocritical (there’s one scene where her daughter is furious that Kate wants to give $20.00 to a homeless person but won’t buy her $200 jeans; exactly how we’re suppose to react to that I wasn’t sure, but I was hoping that Kate would slap some sense into her daughter). Of course, I could be wrong. I could have totally misunderstood everything that Holofcener was trying to say here. But that may ultimately be the problem I had with the film. I didn’t know what Holofcener was trying to say and didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. In spite of the fact that everybody had no trouble saying what they meant with no filter, Holofcener wasn’t so obvious.
The final film in this set is The Father of My Children, the latest from writer/director Mia Hansen-Love. I saw this sans friends or acquaintances, so I’m on my own on this one. It’s basically divided into two parts. In the first half, the story is a portrait of Gregoire Canvel (played by a wonderfully shaggy-haired Louis-Do de Lencqueasain), a French producer of independent art house films (yes, not all French films are independent art house movies, they actually have specialized production companies and producers for them). But Canvel has taken on a bridge too far, in this case, an expensive war firm with epic possibilities directed by a difficult director who can’t control the budget. Canvel’s in debt, can’t get credit, has already sold off his catalog of films, and has had to make financial deals on other releases such that he is going to receive very little of the profits, if there are any. As a result, he kills himself. The film then concentrates on his wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) and oldest daughter Clemence (Alice de Lencquesaing), the wife trying to finish out her husband’s slate of films to give meaning to her husband’s death, and the oldest daughter having to come to terms with a secret: her father had an illegitimate child. The first half feels the most realized mainly because the plotting is taut and focused. The audience knows what’s at stake and is caught up in wanting to know how it’s all going to turn out. The suicide, though not surprising, is shocking because it still seems to come out of nowhere. The second half is more languid, as if it’s trying to figure out what it wants to be about. It seems to meander and doesn’t feel quite as gripping as the first half. This may mainly be due to the part of the plot relating to Clemence, a through line that is unclear in its purpose. The part concerning Sylvia is often as taut as the first half with one wonderful scene where she confronts the narcissistic director of the movie too far and he is not only unrepentant about his contribution to the producer’s despair, he blames everything on Canvel; the director may be a great artist, as Canvel contends, but he’s an obvious rotter as well. Though the second half may not be as focused or taut as the first half, it’s still moving.