Directed by: Nicole Holofcener
Written by: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Ann Guilbert, Amanda Peet, Rebecca Hall
Guilt has a weird way of always finding its way out of the subconscious and dictating our decision making. It may appear in the strangest ways but nevertheless it coats our actions towards others depending on the reason for that feeling. It’s something we see with every adult character in Please Give manage.
Making a living selling the possessions of those who have passed, Kate (Catherine Keener) has the need to always give back somehow. Whether it be from handing out food or donating money to homeless people through the streets of New York. She now awaits, with her family, for a tenant next door to die in order to knock down the wall and renovate her place.
Charity comes in various forms but observing the intention and nature of who provides says plenty. Take Kate, who has a shop in New York and whenever she’s not there selling, she searches for families that have recently lost an older relative who has left behind furniture. The living family members just see a bunch of junk they need to get rid of, which is where Kate steps in and offers to purchase materials, where she knows she can make a profit. It creates for some awkward conversations, but she’s good at persuasion. Through this business, Kate has built a nice life with her husband and daughter, living in a beautiful New York apartment but she feels guilty. The facade begins to break down whenever anything she does gets questioned, which comes from her daughter.
Andra (Ann Gilbert) is fixated on getting a $200 pair of jeans that her parents refuse to purchase for her. She gets annoyed when her mother hands homeless people in the street $20 bills but refuses to buy her jeans that will fit her well. The clash between Andra and Kate raises the question of what true generosity means. Giving money away to those who need it more seems like a great idea, but it has been bastardized for tax and publicity purposes in our society. You just have to look at all of the stories of celebrities giving money to a cause that equates to less than 1% of their net worth. You can almost count the celebrities that happen to donate just below the maximum for a tax deduction. It makes an action built on selflessness fester with cynicism on its intentions.
Examining Kate’s fixation on being so generous raises questions about her guilt. Something that manifests from her work and how she acquires items that afford her such a great lifestyle. At times this overcorrection gets absurd like when she offered her leftover food from a restaurant to a black man standing outside of a different eatery. Because of the way he was dressed, she assumed he was homeless and needed a meal to which he responded by stating that he’s just outside waiting for his table to be prepared. A cringe moment that makes everyone in that exchange feel very uncomfortable.
Writer/director Nicole Holofcener plays with these ideas of privilege with many of her characters and Catherine Keener always takes them on and portrays them exceptionally well. Their continued collaboration demonstrates their ability to work as a pair and bring these people to life in hilarious and dramatic ways. Kate becomes such an interesting character to analyze because it appears that her actions don’t necessarily warrant this overcorrection. She goes to these homes with family members that just want to get rid of these belongings of which they have no use for. Kate then offers them money to take care of it. Is she a bit of an ambulance chaser? Of course, but she’s not out there causing these deaths. Having Kate work through these feelings makes for quite the trip into this woman’s psyche.
Please Give would rank in the lower end of Nicole Holofcener’s filmography but that only speaks to the quality of work she always delivers. This film doesn’t necessarily land with its ideas and themes as it reaches its conclusions but it does provide an entryway into the minds of these characters. The way it speaks about death and who profits from it troubles Kate but others struggle with their fidelity, worth, and actual purpose in life all within two apartments.