Friends with Money

Directed by Nicole Holofcener

The story of three and a half couples living in LA. Nouveau riche Franny and Matt (Joan Cusack and Greg Germann), screenwriting yuppies Christine and David (Holofcener's screen alter-ego Catherine Keener and Jason Isaacs), Jane the fashion designer and her metrosexual husband Aaron (Frances McDormand and Simon McBurney). Then there is Olivia (a de-glammed yet still sexy Jennifer Aniston), the "token" poor friend who works as a maid and whose depression has taken her away from teaching (and we presume former happiness) and into an ex-boyfriend-stalking bitter funk, which is just compounded by the financial truths of her life and those of her friends. It is Olivia (and her ingenue portrayer Aniston) whence the crux of the story revolves - or should I say extrapolates. An extension of her character from the somewhat superior yet equally weary The Good Girl, Aniston is left alone in the center of this rather episodic tale with not much to do but wiggle her nose in faint disgust at the world.

Much paler in comparison to Holofcener's previous Lovely & Amazing, an acute look into the lives of one family's fears and fuck-ups (and possibly being unfairly criticized because of my love for that film) as well as being much more bluntly obvious when trying to get its point across - full of more than enough metaphors to make even the most hopeful of poets jade with bombastic ridicule. Yeah, we get it - Christine keeps stubbing her toe or stepping on her child's toys because she cannot see what is right in front of her face and Jane refuses to wash her hair in self-protest over getting old and knowing it no longer matters and Franny is the only one with a happy and healthy sex life (does money equal happiness after all?) and Olivia cleans strangers homes for money in order to not have to face her own messy life. Yeah, we get it - now stop pounding it into our faces.

My friend compared watching the film to a "prolonged testicular squeeze", and though I may not devalue the film's merits quite as much as he did - for the film is never poorly acted, although more often than not, seemingly disenchanted - overall this great cast seems all but wasted here (only McDormand and McBurney get chances to shine), and the (somewhat) uplifting ending seems maybe a bit too contrived (and dare I say, Hollywoody?). Albeit a slightly (emphasis on slightly) smarter film than one would guess from the rather phoned-in building blocks it has to work with - Holofcener's latest merely parades about in obvious formation (a possible side-effect of a film based in the disorganized, sprawled out decentralization that is LA) filled with clunky-shoed choreographs and near sit-com-esque scene set-ups (not to mention implausibility - how exactly did these women become friends in the first place?), when it should be doing what Lovely & Amazing did so well - tell a hyperrealistic story with equal parts sadness and joy and terror and all those uncomfortable silences that real life is so full of. [04/25/06]