Writer-director Nicole Holofcener's "Please Give" is a smart and funny look at guilt and fear, as well as the fact that like it or not, many of us are either waiting to die or waiting for someone else to die.
Catherine Keener stars as Kate, a New York City furniture dealer who, along with her husband, Alex, played by Oliver Platt, specializes in much the fetishized mid-century modern designs. As is the case with most such dealers, they stock their store with things bought via estate sales.
"From the children of dead people," as Alex so delicately put it.
Not only is Kate making her living off the death of others, she is literally awaiting the death of her neighbor, Andra, whose apartment she has already bought, so she can knock down the wall that separates their homes and begin remolding.
If this sounds awfully familiar, that's because it was the conceit at the center "Duplex," the painfully crass and unfunny 2003 comedy starring Ben Stiller (go figure) and Drew Barrymore. "Duplex" went for cheap laughs -- a surefire way to not get any -- by painting its protagonists as greedy monsters.
But "Please Give" is infinitely more subtle. Yes, it's a ghoulish way to live, waiting for your neighbor to die so you can build your dream closet, but it's a fairly common reality. Where Kate is filled with self-loathing, Alex shrugs his shoulders. Holofcener and Keener do a nice job of making Kate the object of deserved pity, but not scorn or derision. You don't hate for her self-absorption -- and that's really what this level of guilt is -- but you're free to laugh at her absurdity.
Platt is his usual charming and funny self, Amanda Peet (where did her career go so wrong?) and Rebecca Hall are both excellent as Andra's granddaughters, as is Sarah Steele as Kate and Alex's heavily-pimpled, jeans-obsessed teenage daughter.
"Please Give" has a numiber of plotlines woven throughout, each worth examination, but Holofcener wisely avoids trying to wrap them all up. There simply isn't time and to do so would've been forced and awkward, instead, she maintains her focus to the end.
"Please Give" is showing at the Tribeca Film Festival April 27 and 28 before going into limited release on April 30.