Reel Deal: 'Please Give' has got plenty to offer

Robert McCune

There may or may not be a bright shining light after you die. But what you can count on, as a member of the newly deceased, are scavengers rifling through your stuff, haggling over who gets the goods and what to do with the duds.

They may be family members. Or they may be furniture resellers.

As the latter, Cathy (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are making a killing. They bargain-buy antiques from the children of the recently dead and flip them in their New York City shop for a huge profit.

The profession –– and the couple’s unbridled success at it –– is a constant source of guilt for Cathy. But it doesn’t bother Alex much, nor their teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), who is preoccupied about an acne problem and overpriced jeans.

Cathy’s chronic bleeding heart means she can’t walk by a homeless person (there are dozens in their neighborhood by her count) without giving them a handout, food or cash.

She also hopes to find a volunteer opportunity that fits both her personality and redemptive needs. But none of the volunteer groups she approaches want her around. The problem is that Cathy’s sadistic self-loathing is contagious and, instead of raising spirits, she brings them down.

Meanwhile, Cathy and Alex are eager to renovate their apartment by knocking down some walls and expanding into the unit next door. There’s just one hitch: The 91-year-old lady who lives there just won’t die.

Andra (Ann Guilbert) is sour, racist and just plain mean –– even to her granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet), who take care of her. Well, Rebecca (the unlucky-in-love mammogram tech) cares for her and Mary (who gives facials in a salon and frequents tanning beds) is pretty mean.

A dinner that brings both families together is meant to be a bonding experience, but just serves to complicate an already uncomfortable arrangement.

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener (whose behind-the-camera credits include 2001’s “Lovely and Amazing” and TV episodes of “Gilmore Girls” and “Sex and the City”) brings a unique and authentic female voice to “Please Give.” Platt and Thomas Ian Nicholas (Eugene, Rebecca’s eventual suitor) are truly just along for the ride.

It’s a little movie –– with the same kind of feel as 2008’s “Sunshine Cleaning,” starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt –– but it’s got lots to give, including genuine characters, thoughtful dialogue, somber moments and more than a few chuckles.

It’s as worthwhile as a jaunt to upstate New York to see the vibrant fall foliage.


Robert McCune is editor of The Independent. His Reel Deal column appears each Saturday in The Independent and at Contact him at 330-775-1124 or