FILM REVIEW: FRIENDS WITH MONEY
By Allison Benedikt
Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
The four women in "Friends With Money," writer-director Nicole Holofcener's latest foray into female friendship and modern love, all have reached a point in their lives when, as fortysomething clothing designer Jane says, "there's no more wondering about what it's going to be like."
And by "it," she means life.
Acutely perceptive and slyly quick-witted, Holofcener first proved herself adept at turning the minutiae of female interaction and insecurity into smart pop entertainment with 1996's "Walking and Talking," a low-budget comedy about a thirtysomething single woman dealing with her best friend's impending marriage, among other traumas. Catherine Keener starred, as she did in 2002's "Lovely & Amazing," Holofcener's understated look at self-esteem and body image in a family of four woman, and does here in "Friends With Money," a class-conscious L.A. tale of four best friends and the men who love (and hurt) them.
The actress and writer are a perfect match. Keener brings a sleepy-eyed hysteria to most of her roles - she's always kind of screaming on the inside - and Holofcener tends to create characters whose main chore in life is to appear functional.
In "Friends With Money," Jane (Frances McDormand) has stopped trying. Married to a kind and stylish man who everyone assumes is gay, raising an adorable son and successful in her career, Jane is tired. Too tired to wash her hair, too tired to deal with everyday annoyances, such as SUV-driving bullies, hipsters who cut the line at Old Navy and waitresses who can't be bothered. Unless you're a rare species of human being, Jane's all-consuming anger feels all too familiar, a seething, stifling bitterness that can't be shaken or explained.
So does Christine's. Expressed in defensive sarcasm (or, as my colleague puts it, offensive defensiveness), Christine's quiet rage is initially pushed under the hardwood floor as she and her husband try to save their marriage by adding on to their house. Who needs tenderness, Keener's finely tuned character seems to be hoping, when you've got expensive minimalist decor?
This tension between money and happiness comes up often in the film, as it does in life. But unlike Holofcener's focus in "Lovely & Amazing," which, though subtle, approached the idea of physical insecurity head-on (most memorably when Emily Mortimer stands naked in front of a lover, demanding that he critique her body), here economics between friends lurks just below the surface.
Christine and Jane are comfortable. But Franny (Joan Cusack) is in an entirely different socio-economic stratosphere. She's loaded. And happy. But not happy because she's loaded, as far as we can tell. But who really knows. Money is funny that way.
Then there's Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), the fourth in this quartet of lifelong pals, and the youngest. "She's unmarried, she's a pothead, and she's a maid," Jane says to her husband, worried about Olivia's well-being but also bemused to find herself in the company of someone who cleans for a living.
Aniston's very good - she really seems to have a knack for playing lost and wandering plain Janes - and the inherent clash between Olivia's financial reality and upper-middle-class point of view often brings the monetary issues into fuller relief, as when Olivia spends an afternoon talking her way into free samples of Chanel face cream. She may scrub strange men's toilets by day, but she sure as hell isn't going to stoop to drugstore Neutrogena at night.
Still, my only solid grumble about "Friends With Money" is that it's structured around Olivia, perhaps because she's the story's odd-man-out or because she's played by Aniston, the most famous name in this strong ensemble cast. Olivia is educated, she used to teach at a ritzy private school and will eventually find love (maybe even in the span of this movie). This unhappy phase is just that for Olivia, a phase. But for the others, this is life, and ideally their battle with the long road of monotony ahead would have been front and center.
But this is only a tiny quibble, as "center" isn't central to Holofcener's storytelling technique. Like her previous films, "Friends With Money" doesn't exactly go anywhere. It peers in on a certain segment of women, and looks and looks until those women are no longer a segment but complicated and complicating human beings.
"Friends With Money" ends, in fact, as it begins: with the women driving home from a group dinner, each in her own car with her own significant other, the lights of Los Angeles reflected in the windows of their varying degrees of luxury automobiles, the conversations about who looked prettiest and how much the night cost, and the feeling that, for better or worse, this is it.
"Friends With Money"
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener; photographed by Terry Stacey; edited by Robert Frazen; production designed by Amy Ancona; produced by Anthony Bregman. A Sony Pictures Classics release; opens Friday, April 7. Running time: 1:28. MPAA rating: R (language, some sexual content and brief drug use).
Olivia - Jennifer Aniston
Christine - Catherine Keener
Jane - Frances McDormand
Franny - Joan Cusack
Aaron - Simon McBurney
David - Jason Isaacs
Matt - Greg Germann
Mike - Scott Caan