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Married antique-dealers, Kate and Alex plan on gutting the apartment they own next door to expand their own pad once Andra, the cranky, elderly widow who lives there, finally dies. When Kate, conflicted with her own guilt, befriends Andra’s granddaughters, the results are anything but predictable.
For more about Please Give and the Please Give Blu-ray release, see Please Give Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Writer: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Elizabeth Keener, Elise Ivy, Catherine Keener, Josh Pais, Sarah Steele
» See full cast & crew
Please Give Blu-ray Review
Please give this movie a chance.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 1, 2010
She, like, wants to save the world.
Please Give is a special little film that's all about the heart it wears on its sleeve and the sincerity it crams into every frame. Writer/Director Nicole Holofcener's picture is absolutely seamless in the way it brings to life, well, life in a way rarely captured on film. Here's a picture that's as honest as they come; it's as ugly as it is beautiful, as tender as it is rough, as sweet as it is sour, and if there's a special effects or CGI shot in the movie it completely disappears into the background. It's all about taking a long, hard, sometimes mournful, sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, sometimes surprising, but always brutally honest look at what it is that makes a human being an individual and, by extension, the dynamics that take shape when several individuals are made part of a group. The picture juxtaposes man's obsession with material goods and physical perfection against his very real needs that can't be met by money in the bank, a larger apartment, the right pair of jeans, or a clear face. Please Give balances its examination of the outer needs of man against the inner needs that may be different for some but ultimately culminate in an understanding that the world doesn't just revolve around one person or that money and prestige aren't the true keys to happiness. Please Give -- primarily in how its incredibly-drawn characters so perfectly define the picture's layered themes -- deserves a far more thorough dissection than is possible given the space and time allotted for this review; suffice it to say, however, that audiences who give the movie a chance and take the time to ponder what it says through its character's professions, dialogue, and interactions will find a movie that's one of the most thematically complex but highly rewarding and well-intentioned out there.
Kate (Catherine Keener, Into the Wild) and Alex (Oliver Platt, Flatliners) are a married New York couple who run a high-dollar antique shop that's stocked by merchandise they purchase for pennies on the dollar at estate sales after someone dies. Their daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) is struggling to find answers to her regular acne breakouts while obsessing over a pair of high-dollar jeans. Alex and Kate have purchased the apartment adjacent to their own with plans to join the two and expand their living space. There's only one catch: it's still occupied by an elderly woman named Andra (Ann Guilbert) who's a spry and opinionated 91 years young. She's cared for by her two granddaughters, the blunt cosmetologist Mary (Amanda Peet, Identity) and the kinder mammogram technician Rebecca (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige). As everyone waits for poor old Andra to die, Kate begins feeling guilt for the way she makes money and for the comfortable life she leads, all the while empathizing with those less fortunate. In an effort to sort out her personal life and bring balance to her troubled soul, she searches for various means by which she can share her time, money, and good fortune with others, but will her worldly life crumble around her as she searches for purpose in her spiritual life?
Please Give opens with breasts. Lots of breasts, in fact. Breasts of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages. If that's not an attention-grabber and a tone-setter, then nothing is. But it's more than just a 12-year-old boy's favorite scene; it's the first of what are to be 91 minutes worth of images, characters, and dialogue that strive to find the very essence of man by examining what it is he values and the way in which he prioritizes his life. The breasts serve dual purposes, it would seem, as both a way of opening the movie with imagery of something both man and woman assign a high personal value and, by framing them within the context of mammogram procedures, hinting to the notion that even those things which seem to hold such high value can ultimately cost a person everything they treasure. It's also the introduction to one of the film's pivotal characters, Rebecca, a girl who finds a value in life that others in the film struggle to see; if that she's on the front lines of saving lives in the doctor's office isn't enough, she's the character who still makes an effort to treat her aging grandmother with some level of dignity and respect as others only see her faults and wait for her to die for their own selfish reasons.
In fact, that appreciation for life gets to the very heart of what Please Give seems to be all about. The picture builds up a wonderfully complex and infinitely fascinating dynamic that shows two of the primary characters, Kate and Alex, as people who make their money -- and by every logical extension better their lives from a very generalized here-and-now perspective -- by gobbling up antiques at estate sales for pennies on the dollar and reselling them at a substantially higher cost. In essence, they prey on the dead and the mournful, though what they do seems in no way dishonest. They provide a service by relieving at least one area of stress from the mourners' lives, and in turn for their troubles make extra money on the side. The picture's fascinating dynamic, however, has them taking things one step further that turns them from entrepreneurs into some kind of morbid vultures hovering over the head of an aging woman in poor health, waiting for her to die so that they may turn her apartment into an extension of their own. They've lost sight of what really matters in the world, and it seems that that unending and perfectly-focused drive towards personal satisfaction is what has Kate worked up into a frenzy of emotions that have her torn between the pleasures of an ascendancy into a higher plane of the social hierarchy -- defined by wealth and material goods -- and what might be even more real and gratifying: putting others first. It's only through her epiphany that her spiritual life can't be satisfied by making money and expanding her apartment that she begins to realize that her priorities must change if she's to find balance, happiness, and satisfaction in all areas of her life, with emphasis on that most crucial one of all that exists separate of the material world. That begs the real question asked within the movie, though: does she truly mean to help others, or by helping others does she truly hope only to help herself?
There are several junctures throughout Please Give that attempt to answer that question. Best to leave it up to the audience to find those moments for themselves and decide where Kate's heart truly lies, but suffice it to say Please Give doesn't leave its audience wanting for something that can be interpreted as a definitive answer. Hint: think basketball. With Kate in mind, this seems as good a time as any to praise Catherine Keener's performance. She's so thoroughly convincing in her part -- as are the other primary cast -- that Please Give oftentimes feels more voyeuristic than cinematic. The picture captures reality and real emotions and seemingly perfectly-constructed characters to an extent that the movie's already challenging themes, moving plot developments, and smart ideas are only elevated to another level of excellence. The actors -- in conjunction with Holofcener's script -- manage to make the movie feel so real that it's often uncomfortable to watch, like it's in some way wrong to be this intimately involved in these people's lives. Please Give often captures an unsettling vibe not only in that regard but in the way the characters are so complexly drawn both inside and out yet are all definable in but a single sentence. That balance between single defining trait and the way each character fits into the greater scope of the story is perhaps its greatest asset. That Kate finds guilt in her profession and the pending expansion of her apartment; that Mary works as a cosmetologist who's unbearably ugly on the inside and can't even manage to make others pretty on the outside; that Alex is drawn to the one person who can't help him see the direction in which his life is headed; that Rebecca plays the part of the kinda-sorta life-saver who comes into the story already caring about the welfare of others both in her job and outside of it; and that Abby seems in search of a balance to better who she is both on the inside and on the outside, though she can't decide which is more important; all play a part in defining both the basic essence of Please Give as well as contributing to its much larger-in-scope ideas that speak in both broad generalities and nitty-gritty specifics about the very nature of man.
Please Give Blu-ray, Video Quality
Please Give arrives on Blu-ray with what appears to be a true-to-director intent 1080p transfer. Viewers used to immaculately reproduced 35mm transfers from Sony will immediately note that something about Please Give looks to be a bit off. The film was actually shot with 16mm cameras, giving it that somewhat less defined and slightly more raw and under-detailed texture. Thew result is a sometimes soft image that's lacking in pristine definition. Faces occasionally appear pasty and flat, and fine detailing ranges from tolerable to quite strong in several spots. A handful of shots look like they were captured on low grade, standard definition video, but such exist only in one- or two-second spurts here and there. Colors are fairly accurate and pleasing; everything from nicely-realized flesh tones all the way to the colorful decorations seen on food packaging impress and lends to the transfer a steady, honest appearance. Black levels are strong, too, never appearing neither dull nor excessively dark so as to drown out fine details. Please Give features a rough-around-the-edges sort of transfer, but it seems to replicate the picture's intended appearance based on the available information (further supplementary insight would have been appreciated).
Please Give Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Please Give features a run-of-the-mill DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. This is a dialogue-intensive film that sees most every other element fade into the background in favor of the words and the story they tell. Dialogue is precise and center-focused, and Marcelo Zarvos' (Remember Me) wonderful score is well-spaced across the front speakers. In one scene, voices and a slamming door nicely echo through the soundstage to create a realistic sound effect, and the track also captures location-specific ambience -- such as clanking silverware and background music in a restaurant or the general din of New York City in various exterior scenes -- nicely enough across the front. The surround speakers are rarely, if ever, put to use. Put simply, this track is as basic as they get, but basic is really all this film needs.
Please Give Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Please Give is a movie that absolutely begs for one or more commentary tracks, but alas, none are included. What little that's here begins with Behind the Scenes of 'Please Give' (1080p, 12:06), an all-too-brief piece that features cast and crew discussing the picture's story, themes, and characters, intercut with clips form the film. Nicole Holofcener Q&A (480p, 8:24) features the Writer/Director fielding various questions about the film. BD-Live functionality; the Please Give trailer (1080p, 2:07); a series of outtakes (480p, 3:58); and additional 1080p trailers for Mother and Child, Micmacs, Get Low, Animal Kingdom, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Eat Pray Love, and "The Pillars of the Earth" are also available.
Please Give Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's important to note with a movie such as Please Give that there are no definitive right or wrong approaches in analyzing all it has to say; that holds true for most every film, really, but it's magnified in importance here as Please Give is bound to speak to each viewer with a unique vocabulary. That said, Please Give is a film everyone should see, and it's a film no two people will see the same way. The picture is visually simple but thematically complex to the point that it stands among some of the great films that look at the human condition in the way it so effortlessly captures the essence of life and so precisely finds what it is that makes an individual tick and how the lives they lead must fulfill them not necessarily on the outside, but on the inside. In several ways the film recalls Sling Blade -- not in style, story, or tone but instead at a much more abstract level -- in the way both find the very essence of man by surrounding one troubled but seemingly well-intentioned soul with others who represent various extremes. Will Please Give one day achieve the status and recognition of Billy Bob Thornton's masterpiece? That's hard to say, but one thing's for sure: Please Give is an extraordinary film that tackles some very tough issues such as death, greed, family dynamics, and the contrast between satisfying the physical and neglecting the emotional and spiritual to a point that it's bound to serve as a springboard for some lively and complex discussions centered on several abstract and infinitely fascinating subjects. It's a film that's sometimes tough to watch but always a pleasure to behold; few films capture the essence of life as well as this, and it'll be a shame if it's not recognized in some form or fashion come awards season. Sony's Blu-ray release of Please Give sports a vanilla lossless soundtrack and a 1080p transfer that seems reflective of the film's 16mm origins. This is a movie that would greatly benefit form the inclusion of a more thorough selection of bonus content, but only a few scattered extras are included. No matter, Please Give Still comes highly recommended based on the strength of the movie.
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