Robert De Niro, Ed Norton and Milla Jovovich star in this drama thriller about a convicted arsonist trying to manipulate a parole officer with the help of his beautiful wife
A contemporary comedy-drama about four women living in Santa Monica, California dealing with the pressures that life, money and relationships
During the decade of her long, though hardly prolific, career Nicole Holofcener has crafted herself a reputation for creating bittersweet, dialogue-heavy comedy-dramas. Walking And Talking (1996) dealt with a singleton's experience as her best friend gets married, while Lovely & Amazing (2001) examined the relationship between a mother and her three daughters. Now comes Friends With Money, another film shedding new light on the female experience. This time, it deals with four Los Angeles-based late-30s friends as they pick their way through modern life.
The central character, if there can be one in such a democratic ensemble, is Olivia (Aniston), a single woman who works as a maid - much to the shock of her wealthier friends, particularly Franny (Cusack), the most solvent of the bunch. The others who make up the group are Christine (Holofcener regular Keener), who writes screenplays with her husband (Isaacs), and Jane (McDormand), a short-fused lady married to a man (McBurney) everyone is secretly convinced is gay.
All of them gossip about Olivia, convinced that she needs a man in her life. She soon does, getting mixed up with a physical trainer named Mike (Caan), a creepy individual who buys her a French maid's outfit to work in while he watches and then demands half her pay for helping her out on the job.
In some ways, there isn't much of a plot to speak of. Huge character arcs are not traversed, nor do any momentous revelations occur, which is really the pleasure of the film. It's more based around Holofcener's observations concerning the everyday mini-cruelties of life. So, for example, Christine and her husband get in an argument, where he claims she has a large bottom and she retorts by noting his breath stinks. While they are remodelling their house, perhaps as a way to paper over the cracks of their marriage, resentment is never far from the surface of their relationship. As for fashion designer Jane, you get the impression that her frustrations at life's little problems - she flies off the handle in the supermarket when other shoppers cut in line ahead of her - hint at something much deeper.
The film is a brilliant showcase for all four actresses (though McBurney, as the potentially gay husband almost steals the show). McDormand relishes her chance to launch into reams of profane dialogue, while Aniston offers her best work since The Good Girl, in which she played a similar blue-collar character. Aniston's performance is wholly devoid of vanity, without once resorting to the safety net of her 'Friends' comic persona that has often crept out in Hollywood films like Rumor Has It.... Holofcener truly understands how to use Aniston's face too. Towards the end, as Olivia finally finds a potential partner worthy of her, there is a beautiful profile shot of Aniston framed in a doorway. As she listens to this most unlikely of suitors, a slight smile creeps over her face, as if to say "finally!" It's a beautifully gentle moment in a film filled with them.
A quietly understated work, Friends With Money may never reach any major peaks but neither does it hit any troughs. Boasting generous performances from each player, this is a film that understands the foibles of human nature.
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