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Sony Picture Classics presents
"Just because you can remove yourself to feel superior to people doesn't mean I can."
DVD ReviewThe real work of friendship is loving our friends because of their faults, not despite them; of course, some of us and our faults are more lovable than others, but if the business of friendship was easy, we wouldn't value those connections. Nicole Holofcener knows that the effort of friendship can be herculean, and the title of her movie might lead you to think that it's just a study in economic disparity—happily it isn't, but even so, in this smart movie shot through with insight, the people can be trying, and their links to one another unclear, to themselves especially.
As you might guess from the names above the title or the image on the front of the DVD case, the story revolves around a quartet of women just this side or the other of 40. Frances McDormand plays Jane, a haute couture fashion designer whose husband, Aaron (Simon McBurney), is catnip to gay men—he's constantly being hit on, and all of Jane's friends are sure that he's a closet case, if he's not on the down low. Catherine Keener is Christine, whose husband, David (Jason Isaacs), is also her screenwriting partner, but the project they're most concerned with just now is a monstrous addition to their house. Joan Cusack is Franny—she and her husband Matt (Greg Germann) are just dripping with money, to the point that they don't know what do to with it all—one of the first things we learn about them is that they have resigned themselves to making a $2 million gift to their son's school, because really, what else would they do with it? In stark contrast is Olivia, unmarried, adrift professionally, smoking a lot of pot and rolling her eyes at her rich friends; she's recently started cleaning houses, so she's become the help.
One of the unstated jokes, of course, is that Olivia is played by Jennifer Aniston, and only in an alternate reality willfully ignorant of the tabloid press could we be led to believe that Aniston can't even get a date. But there's a whole lot more to the movie than that—in some ways, these women are just awful to one another, catty and unsupportive, and yet they're all smart enough to see that they're kind of horrible and self-involved, raising questions for them as to whether or not this is what friendship becomes, at a certain point, for a certain class. But in a jam they know that they can turn to one another, that true empathy is with their friends and nowhere else. (I'll be there for you, if you will.) It's a movie that brims with conspicuous consumption, and is very much of its time and place, jammed with references to SpongeBob and Old Navy and vibrators and Lancôme skin cream. You get the sense that Holofcener really knows this world of personal trainers and questionable loyalties, and of the layers that come with friendships that have evolved over time, and she's got a sharp and wicked ear for dialogue that will make you laugh and squirm simultaneously.
But then—and this may be part of the point of it, too—it's a film that makes you thankful for your own problems, or one that allows you to sneer at the whole lot of them, for they're all kind of awful in some way. (Yeah, I know—who of us isn't?) The structure is loosely yoked together by an ALS benefit, to which they're all invited at the very beginning, and which they all attend at the end; it's a device of convenience for setting up scenes of twos and threes and fours. And Holofcener's words seem to bring out the best in her cast. McDormand is wry, and Cusack is funny and grounded in a way that she isn't always. Aniston does pretty well in what's kind of a doormat of a role; Keener is terrific, as always, though the levels of her character's denial strains credulity. It's also a kick to see a movie with women on top—the guys are fine, especially McBurney and Scott Caan as a scuzzy personal trainer, but it's with the four names above the title that the sparks really fly.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Certainly the widescreen option is the way to go, though the choice to shoot in 2.35 at times seems like a curious one—it helps to keep close-ups to a minimum, though, and the movie favors two shots. The transfer is fairly well done, with only occasional discoloration; either Holofcener or her cinematographer have a thing for rack focus shots, unfortunately, which both look unattractive and transfer poorly.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 track can sound a bit overmixed, though Ricki Lee Jones' music for the film is very nice, if a bit too prominent from time to time on this disc.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Marie Antoinette, The Holiday, The Quiet, American Hardcore, House of Sand, QuinceaĖera, Volver, Sketches of Frank Gehry, Don't Come Knocking, Art School Confidential, Who Killed the Electric Car?
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Nicole Holofcener, Anthony Bregman
Extras Review: Holofcener is joined by producer Anthony Bregman on a candid commentary track—this sounds as if it was a comparatively trouble-free project, and that assembling the cast was a dream. Keener was the first one in, and helped corral her comrades; Bregman and Holofcener go over the typical details of the shoot (where, that funny thing that happened that day on the set, and so on), though perhaps the more salacious stuff has to do with the paparazzi, for the movie was shot in L.A. at the height of the tabloids' mania for information about Aniston's divorce from somebody or other. Bregman even points out the occasional long lens from a rabid photographer nosing its way into the frame. The two of them tail off a bit in the second half of the movie's running time, and curiously bleeped out, no doubt for legal reasons, is the name of the writer who served as the partial inspiration for Aniston's character, someone who has written about getting baked and cleaning houses to pick up beer money.
Far less interesting are the three accompanying featurettes. Behind the Scenes with Friends with Money (11m:20s) is standard on-set stuff, featuring lots of clips and interviews with the actors. Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics introduces Holofcener in the dispatch (03m:46) from the movie's L.A. premiere, and there are lots of thank yous all around in the piece (04m:40s) about the movie opening the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsNicole Holofcener's keen ear for dialogue and compassion for characters with emotional complexity bring out the best in her talented cast. It's a movie more of small moments than of sweeping vision, but its small pleasures are delectable ones.
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