Sundance Diary: Nicole Holofcener's 'Please Give,' Or: Women's Worst Impulses, Forgivingly Framed

Catherine Keener consults with director Nicole Holofcener i i

Catherine Keener consults with director Nicole Holofcener on the set of Please Give. Piotr Redlinksi/Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

itoggle caption Piotr Redlinksi/Sony Pictures Classics
Catherine Keener consults with director Nicole Holofcener

Catherine Keener consults with director Nicole Holofcener on the set of Please Give.

Piotr Redlinksi/Sony Pictures Classics

by Ella Taylor

The happiest-looking people at the Sundance Film Festival, it's been my experience, are not necessarily the lucky filmmakers who got their movies accepted, or their agents, or the buyers who snagged the hottest undistributed movie for less than they expected to pay.

No, invariably the cheeriest faces belong to the many groups of women of all ages — most of them unconnected with the film industry — who pay full price to attend, who plan their ticket purchases and their shared condos four months in advance. I meet them on the festival shuttle buses all the time They are the friendliest of souls, will talk to anybody, and regard it as a huge privilege to spend all day seeing movies while their husbands stay home or go skiing.

They turned out in droves last night at Park City's cavernous Eccles Theatre to see the festival premiere of Please Give, the latest movie by Nicole Holofcener, who also wrote and directed, among others, Lovely and Amazing and Friends With Money.

Wicked observations, tempered by a basic kindness, after the jump ...

Remember when Woody Allen made great comedies satirizing the mores of upper middle-class Manhattan neurotics? Well, Holofcener's been making them too. (Her mother, Carol Joffe, was Allen's set decorator.) And though they're usually set in her native Los Angeles, Please Give, with its large ensemble of female nervous wrecks, is set in New York and spins off a very Manhattan dilemma: how to be nice to your elderly (and pretty unpleasant) neighbor while hoping she'll die, so you can snap up her apartment and start pushing though walls.

I saw Please Give at the end of a long day of excellent documentaries about terrible human suffering (of this more another day), and I loved the light touch that Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt and the excellent young actress Sarah Steele brought to their roles as Manhattanites trying and mostly failing to live well.

Almost alone among American women filmmakers, Holofcener has a startling candor about femininity — her women are bitchy, obsessed with their bodies, often unsuccessful to the point of being real losers, and utterly sympathetic in their efforts to rise above their own pettiness.

"I've played many bitches in my time," said Amanda Peet after the screening, talking about her character, a beautician of distinctly iffy moral fiber. "So I know where she's coming from."

Holofcener is as kind as she is wickedly observant of human inadequacy; Keener is invariably her alter ego, but she has often said that every character contains some aspect of the writer-director's own obsessions. If she's the Woody Allen you never heard of, it's high time you did.

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