Kate (Cathrine Keener) is racked with guilt. She profits on the death of old people. She and her husband Alex (Oliver Platt) run a vintage furniture shop. Their business model consists of low-balling grieving families for furniture that their recently departed relatives left to them, and then selling that same furniture at an extremely marked up price. In order to counteract the guilt that is eating away at Kate's soul, she figures that giving out money to any homeless person she sees may even the scales in her favor. But to make matters worse, she and Alex are waiting for their 90 year-old next door neighbor to kick the bucket so they can bust down the walls and expand their apartment.
The 90 year-old next door, Andra, is insufferable, mean, and crotchety. I had a similar experience with my grandmother. Once she started losing her mind to dementia, her attitude turned mean and indifferent. She wasn't always like that, it's just what sometimes happens later in life. Andra was probably a perfectly respectable human being at one time, but the ravages of age have turned her spiteful. She has two granddaughters. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) is kind, sweet, and takes care of Andra despite her bad attitude. Mary (Amanda Peet) is in danger of becoming just as unlikable and unfriendly as her grandma.
I first saw 'Please Give' at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. I loved it then and I love it now. Director and writer Nicole Holofcener weaves together a tale of city dwellers who are imperfect, but they're people we've all come in contact at one time or another. At times the film is a light-hearted comedy, at other times it's a tear-inducing drama, but Holofcener seems to blend everything together in a manner that makes us want to keep watching, even if we don't really know why.
There isn't a ridiculous love story tacked on here, or any hackneyed plot elements. The movie just flows with the movement of life, laughter, and sorrow. It's a rich character piece where each character is dealing with their own setbacks in life and trying desperately to play with the cards they were dealt. Take for instance the almost heart-breaking tale of Kate and Alex's daughter who, like many teenagers, is worried about her noticeable acne and her big-boned body type. Holofcencer doesn't spell it out for us right at the beginning. We understand why she is the way she is, because we've all gone through that stage. We can relate with her.
Kate's guilt is the driving force of the movie. She's adamant to save the homeless one five dollar bill at a time. This brings up an interesting question. If our lives are full of aspects we regret, can we make up for those in other areas?
It's a tough world, and Holofcener's 'Please Give' doesn't dumb it down into the typical Hollywood formula. She lets the characters go, they do what they were always meant to do. Some change, some stay in their own state of arrested development, but watching it all play out is a cinematic treat.
'Please Give' comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. This is a tough one to review. I did see 'Please Give' on one of its very first screenings, and it looked OK on screen, although the 16mm filming definitely cut down on the detail. Needless to say, it didn't look overly amazing when I saw it on the big screen, so I wasn't expecting much with this Blu-ray. What we have here is what I more or less expected 'Please Give' to look like on Blu-ray. The entire image appears soft, without the slightest bit of fine detail. Contrast needs work, as any time light hits a character's face it becomes washed out and pale. Colors are muted. Even though this is one of the most unimpressive HD transfers out there, it must be noted that it didn't look much better than this in the theater. With that being the case, I obviously can't give this a top score, because it's not eye candy material, but I also can't outright flunk it for being a product of an undetailed source. That's why the score is directly in the middle. Just know, people who are buying this, that you're getting a solid representation of what 'Please Give' did look like in the cinema, just don't expect to be the slightest bit impressed by it.
That said, you'll likely be happy that the high definition isn't all that it can be as you watch the opening credits. You'll see what I mean.
As you may have guessed, 'Please Give' is a front-heavy affair. With all of its talking, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation does a nice job creating a clearly audible soundfield which helps us hear each and every word spoken. This is a simple audio presentation without many frills. Slight ambient sound can be heard coming from the rear speakers during scenes that feature busy New York streets, or crowded diners. Directionality works relatively well, as characters call out from off screen and their voices are placed just right to make it believable. Other than that, there isn't much else to this presentation. It's a pretty straightforward talky drama that features a lot of dialogue and little else.
'Please Give' is a movie that resonates more deeply than you would ever have thought possible. It's easy to watch, but hard to figure out. Holofcener has done a fantastic job creating a batch of eclectic characters without shoving them in our faces and saying, "Look, these people have problems. Now watch them." I could watch 'Please Give' over and over and never tire of it. Every time it feels fresh and somewhat relaxing. The video isn't going to knock your socks off, but the source material wasn't filmed with fine detail in mind. The audio is what you'd expect from a talkative drama, and the special features are scarce and really could have been rounded out with a nice audio commentary. Overall this title comes recommended based on the film itself.