Greetings again from the darkness. If not for a friend’s recommendation, I probably would have avoided this one on the basis of writer/director Nicole Holofcener‘s last film, Friends with Money. I found that to be a miserable film filled with miserable people. This one, on the other hand, is a wonderful film filled with miserable people!
OK, that is a slight simplification, but it is an extremely well written story that showcases the imperfections of people, social situations and society as a whole. Sometimes it seems the harder we try, the worse things turn out. Such is the life of Catherine Keener‘s character. She and her husband (Oliver Platt) run a furniture resale shop. Kind of a Ghost of Furniture Past. She carries around this enormous burden because they stock the store by buying cheap from grandchildren stuck with death’s aftermath … and then reselling to arrogant metrosexual types who live for kitsch and cool. Keener spends her time trying to scrape off the guilt by doling out money and doggie bags to the homeless.
There are many interesting characters in the film and that adds to the fun. Rebecca Hall (uptight Vicky from Vicky Cristina Barcelona) plays the dutiful granddaughter taking care of her 90 plus year old monster granny played colorfully by Ann Morgan Guilbert. Many will remember Ms. Guilbert as Dick Van Dyke’s neighbor in the early 60’s sitcom. Her key job in the film is to get on with dying so that Keener and Platt can take over her apartment and expand – the ultimate dream for a NYC resident. Hall’s character is the budded flower – the one just waiting to bloom as soon as the sun comes out (granny dies).
The mean-spiritedness of the grandmother is matched only by the vile spewing from Amanda Peet, Hall’s less than caring and untrustworthy sister who is obsessed with tanning … and the girl who “stole” her boyfriend. Peet’s character often just says what she is thinking which adds dimension to most conversations! There are some terrific scenes and moments and characters in the film, but the best written scene is the dinner party. Keener and Platt invite Hall, Peet and Guilbert over in a guilt-easing attempt to be civil while waiting for Granny to kick the bucket. The scene takes on an entirely new life when Keener/Platt’s daughter makes an appearance. Sarah Steele plays Abby as a smart, insightful teenager. Oh, and she is also mad at the world and bitter about her complexion and slightly pudgy build (which makes finding the right jeans a quest). The whole scene is one uncomfortable statement or moment after another. Beautiful to watch.
I could go on and on about the intricacies of the characters and their relationships with each other and outsiders, but what matters is that the film is well written and well executed. It is not some sappy, save the world rom-com, but rather a character study of what goes on in real life and in real moments. Plenty of humor, but also plenty of truth. Amazing how often those two go hand in hand.