Kate and husband Alex run a trendy secondhand store in Manhattan specialising in expensive retro 1960s furniture of the G Plan variety.
But Kate is becoming guilt-ridden by the way they acquire this furniture – house clearances of the recently dead. She sadly agrees with bereaved offspring that the furniture is not much more than junk and she will do them a favour by taking it off their hands.
They have also bought the next door apartment with the idea of knocking the two flats into one – but for this they have to wait for its 90 year old resident, Andra, to die. Since the abrasively unpleasant Andra is seemingly indestructible, Kate and Alex are placed in the queasy position of being perpetual death watchers.
To the embarrassment and frustration of Kate’s 15 year old daughter, Abby, Kate compulsively dishes out $20 bills to the homeless on her street as well as handing over Chanel lipsticks to the transvestite on the corner. Acne suffering Abby feels that she wouldn’t mind being on the receiving end of this charity herself, especially when it comes to acquiring the thing she desires most – a $200 pair of designer jeans.
Kate sees poverty and pain everywhere, even when they’re not there. In a laugh out loud cringe-making scene Kate, after having dined at a posh restaurant, humbly offers a doggy-bag to a fashionably grizzled black guy waiting outside the restaurant, only for him to tell her he is a customer waiting for a table.
Kate thinks she may be able to redeem herself by volunteering to help children with Down’s syndrome but becomes too upset to be of any use – the children end up having to comfort her.
Andra’s two granddaughters further worry Kate. One is the quiet and caring Rebecca, who can reproach Kate with just a look.
The other is the acid-tongued Mary, a sunbed-tanned beautician, who is an antidote to all this hand-wringing and provides a lot of the laughs in this film with her jaundiced take on the world.
Writer and director Nicole Holofcener (a regular director for the TV show Sex and the City) writes, “One of the great things about living in New York (if you have money) is being able to buy a beautiful place and fill it with beautiful things. But how do you feel OK about it when there are hungry people right outside your (beautiful newly stripped walnut) door? I have been struggling to forgive myself for these contradictions my whole life and I think that is a struggle I heaped upon Kate.”
Please Give is a watchable, if slight, film touching on the lives and hang-ups of liberal New Yorkers (including, it seems, the director herself). It is all mildly entertaining without amounting to much.
When I emerged from the cinema I wondered, a bit like the revamped furniture, was it worth it?
A new book by Paul O’Brien