Sharkey on Sundance: ‘Please Give’ Keener and crew a hand


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What’s better than a movie featuring Catherine Keener, whose performances tend to feel as if they’ve been sculpted out of clay -- so earthy, so authentic, you forget you’re not just eavesdropping on whatever life she happens to be occupying at the moment?

That would have to be “Please Give,” a little gem of a movie from writer/director Nicole Holofcener, which pairs Keener with the equally exceptional Oliver Platt, who can make nothing much look like something special without even trying.


Here he doesn’t have to, because Holofcener, whose film premiered to a packed and appreciative crowd Friday night at Sundance, has created a funny, poignant observation on their lives as part of a circle of ordinary people who would never spend a moment together if a hallway in a New York apartment house didn’t force shared space on its occupants.

The acting collective of this film, beyond Keener and Platt’s liberal and conflicted couple Kate and Alex, includes Sarah Steele as daughter Abby, who is not going gently through the teen years; Amanda Peet, as beautiful as ever, as a serial tanner, very brown and very seductive to Platt; and the truly under-appreciated Rebecca Hall, who always gives more than she is asked, and that is usually to play the recessive gene. You might remember her as uptight Vicky to Scarlett Johansson’s lush Cristina and Penelope Cruz’s crazed Maria Elena in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” In “Please Give,” she’s Rebecca, the dutiful granddaughter and the patient sister to Peet’s Mary.

The film takes only a small slice of time in their lives -- just long enough for Mary and Alex to have an affair, Rebecca to fall in love, Kate to fall apart and Abby to grow up, a little -- but it is enough. ‘Please Give’ is a lovely bit of humanity that Holofcener has given us, suffused with humor, irony, love, disappointments and tears -- kind of like life.

-- Betsy Sharkey, film critic