Married Manhattanites Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt), parents to teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), operate a successful secondhand furniture store shrewdly stocked with trendy estate sale items. Planning for the future, they purchase the apartment next door in order to expand their two bedroom apartment. Their only problem is the cranky old lady, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), living in it by herself, and the fact that they’ve got to wait for her to die.
Andra is mostly cared for by one granddaughter, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall, above left), a sweet-natured radiology technician, and scorned by her other granddaughter, Mary (Amanda Peet, above right), a callous and self-centered spa clinician nonetheless thrown for a loop by the fact that her last boyfriend dumped her. Things become complicated when these two families’ lives intersect, resulting in a dramedy that’s billed as being about love, death and liberal guilt.
The simple, brilliantly calculated shock of an opening montage of mammograms gives way to interactions that are of a piece with writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s three other films — talky, urbane ensemble flicks that pry quiet but deeply sincere smiles and laughs from an audience, and just as often showcase hushed moments of pinprick vulnerability. Holofcener’s touch with actors is so superb, and her ear for smartly calibrated revelatory dialogue generally so acute, that one feels like they could trip along forever with these characters. Kate’s emotional frailty (she gives charitably to homeless people and wants to volunteer, but is overwhelmed with sadness on the occasions she does reach out) is deftly contrasted with Andra’s deteriorating physical condition.
The only false notes — small qualms, really — come when Holofcener tries to nakedly advance the plot, or color in tragic backstory. These bits feel forced, like some sizzle added to sell the steak. Otherwise, though, Please Give is a wry, absorbing and beautifully observed snapshot of free-floating malaise and burgeoning hope. In gazing both outward and inward in equal measure, it encourages, in nudging fashion, more human engagement and connection, which is always a good thing. (Sony Pictures Classics, R, 90 minutes)