Wonderfully small

Nicole Holofcener delivers another one of her inspired small-picture films

Rated 4.0

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money) has spoken of her films as “a series of small moments that build incrementally to … a bigger small moment.” Her new film, a wistful comedy-drama set among a couple of families living in New York City, is a deftly incisive demonstration of how much character and emotion and offbeat entertainment such methods can generate.

Kate (Catherine Keener) and her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), run an up-scale second-hand furniture store, and they’ve also become owners of the apartment of their aged next-door neighbor Andra (a snarly Ann Guilbert). But the latter is still living in her old place and getting periodic attention from her only surviving relatives—quirky working-girl granddaughters Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet).

The compulsively charitable Kate incurs the dismay of her teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) when she gives to the homeless but won’t pony up for the expensive jeans the kid’s got her eye on. And Mary and Rebecca have rather conflicted relationships with their grandmother and with each other, and all that spills over into the lives of Alex and Kate even before the families begin socializing in the wake of their real-estate transaction. Meanwhile, an illicit love affair and a belated bit of young love drift into view from the outer margins of the story.

No big dramas emerge in all this, but we do get several very piquant slices of modern urban family life and a shrewdly observed gallery of variously imperfect but intriguing characters—the five women (young, old, and in between) and the mildly baffled but by no means unsympathetic Alex.

The sidelong progress through 90-plus minutes of “small moments” proves quietly fascinating, and Please Give ends up feeling like a gently inspired venture into a territory well-versed in the stories of Chekhov, Woody Allen and The New Yorker.

Keener is very sharp as usual, and Peet plays brusquely against her customary glamorous type. Platt makes a calm, gruff addition to the film’s pictures of muddled good intentions, and Hall, coming from a very different direction, makes an even more distinctive contribution to Holofcener’s ambivalent portraiture.