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Entries in nicole holofcener (3)


In Which We Stop Counting The Masseuse's Lies

The Light of My Something


Enough Said
dir. Nicole Holofcener
93 minutes

Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is the only masseuse in the world who has never had a pedicure. She is a snob. Her daughter is a snob; same goes for her daughter's friend. Her boyfriend is a snob, her best friend is a snob. Her ex-husband is a snob. His wife is a snob. Her friend's maid is a snob, her clients are all all snobs, especially Marianne (Catherine Keener), who is probably the queen of all snobs. Nicole Holofcener has reduced the behavior of all white people to its basic component wanting to be better at something than someone, anyone.

In her cathartic and disturbing masterpiece Friends with Money, Holofcener made a maid the centrifuge of her Los Angeles satire. That this maid looked to be, from all evidence, Jennifer Aniston, hampered her point a bit. Louis-Dreyfus is a lot more believable in the role. "I guess I'll have to find a hobby," she says, because her daughter is headed to Sarah Lawrence in the fall. There is no way of knowing whether she means it, because she lies so often.

Amazingly, Eva condescends to date an overweight man named Albert (James Gandolfini). Gandolfini resembles a balloon about to pop. Whatever charm he might have retained from his signature role has dissipated, and if you rolled him down a hill and off a ramp at a high speed, he would soar into the sky. He works for a television museum, but informs Eva that he loathes contemporary television.

Later Albert explains that he only likes Jack Benny, whom I presume was a slaveowner. My knowledge of the television of the 1930s (1830s?) is limited at best.

Eva finds out that Albert's ex-wife is her client/friend Catherine Keener. Ensconced in fabric so enveloping it resembles a muumuu, she explains that her ex-husband does not have any friends, although, "Neither do I." Keener then goes on to relate all the ways she found her ex-husband inadequate: she wasn't interested in him sexually, he never seriously tried to lose weight, he didn't have any bedside tables.

Chief among her complaints is the way he swirls his guacamole. Watching the nearly comatose Gandolfini try to sit on a couch (he more perches, like an orangutan) and reenact the source of his ex-wife's complaint is a last meal of sorts. It is certainly no fun.

There are precious few laughs in Enough Said, not because Holofcener's script isn't cynical enough. It is so cynical it makes Gulliver's Travels look like a ringing endorsement of its time.

Toni Collette plays the one semi-likable character, a therapist named Sarah who detests her patients so much she makes fun of them eating their own mucus at dinner parties. The only thing sympathetic about her is that she has a terrible, unhappy maid.

Eva's daughter seems mostly inclined to ignore her mother in the months before her departure. As a surrogate relationship, she mothers over Chloe (Tavi Gevinson), who comes to her with such difficult questions as, "Should I fuck my boyfriend?" (She should and does.)

Tavi's cinematic debut is not a total disaster at times she projects an earthy somnolence, other moments scream her inexperience. Still, outside of Please Give's Abby, young people are usually just an appendage in Holofcener's films, mini-mes destined to suffer the same travails as the parents they so closely resemble.

Holofcener is coming to her point throughout, however. At first, only a few people felt sorry for themselves. The rest were just glad to be alive. Things could have been worse; they could be in Saigon/Vietnam/Korea/Iraq. Feeling sorry for yourself has become such an attenuated art form that it represents a moral given. A matter of degrees separates us only, of how sorry for yourself you feel, and what you deserve in spite of all the lies you told, or because of the truths you inherited.

It was difficult to watch Gandolfini's acting ability decline with his health. (Even Marlon Brando would have turned aside the dinner that finished him off.) It is even harder to spend one second feeling sorry for him, and it is unlikely he ever managed to feel sorry for himself.

Although his personage here is loathsome (he accidentally shows Eva his penis during brunch and begs her to compliment it), at least, in stacks of digitized video of the past, he has found something to enjoy. All around him, these people do not even have that.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Can't Wait" - Arcade Fire (mp3)


In Which We Spend The Summer With Her



My summer began with a bang. A bullet, which I later collected for the police — six miniature pieces of delicately warped copper metal smashed my second floor bedroom window as I watched game four of the NBA Finals in my living room. My roommate and I had only been in our new place for a little over a month. The unusually long walk down our hallway from one end of the apartment to the other was still novel, and often, the source of newfangled ways to strut, lunge, race, or complain down its exaggerated path. Even then, as we shakily walked towards my broken window, the hallway's reach offered a touch of comedy to an otherwise nervy moment.

An hour or so later, after I'd cried and two police officers had arrived and returned a second time to retrieve the bullet bits, my roommate and I went back to the game as if nothing had occurred. We even paused the DVR at one point so I could snap a picture of our TV with my phone: Lil Wayne sitting behind the basket with his new girl, Dheaa rare find at the time.

Catherine Keener and Anne Heche in Walking and Talking

As it happens in the summer, unlike winter where a stupor of shorter days allows for the stewing, knotting and eventual swelling of events, this particular trauma came and went. Well, sort of. Rather, I began to spend an unusual amount of time indoors, at mine, watching movies; specifically any and all of Nicole Holofcener's works.

Time spent with a Holofcener movie can feel curative: a helix of close and complicated female friendships, a nod to those compulsive habits we keep private, to the snug and the sound, and to the funny, like a pick-me-up come to life. But it can also feel entirely indulgent. Relating to a slew of passively worn relationships, or perhaps less whopping, passively worn personal hygiene or clothes — greasy hair, jean overalls, pajama t-shirts in the day — can shift significance to self hatred, fast. Things will get ugly. Belonging is oftentimes static.  

Friends With Money

Catherine Keener, the director’s muse, has mastered the deadpan droop. She is beautiful in a tomboyish way and sexy in a scrappy way. The combination is faultless when casting a female lead whose hang-ups are meant to appear relatable — and are ultimately very charming, and described by critics as “spirited” — for 90 minutes.

Keener's tone is flatline, slow and soft, and a bit chipped. She stands with her upper body at a slight angle as if she’s only ever carried canvas tote bags instead of leather purses. Her face and body are bony. Shirts sit on her shoulders as they would on the hanger and sweaters, no matter what size, are oversized. Her clothes seem resigned to her body in the same way the characters Holofcener writes for her seem resigned to whatever the current crisis might be: finding “a job, job,” guilt-driven charity, navigating a teenage daughter, mourning a dead cat, divorce. Holofcener dresses Keener, even in the daytime, as if she’s driven to her friend’s house in the middle of the night to cry, plot, laugh, and eat ice cream from the carton — a wealth of cardigan sleeves stretched and pulled over her hands, shawls, linen, little boy tees.

As Michelle in 2001's Lovely and Amazing, she plays a fatalistic mother-wife-daughter-sister, and would-be arts and crafts artist living in L.A. Her Eeyore affectations are offset by her sarcastic smile, which widens in proportion to her growing disregard for her mother’s liposuction, her husband’s cheating, and her sister’s insecurities. By the end, Keener’s indignant glow lulls and Holofcener’s restorative mold surfaces — an unlikely romance with a teenaged Jake Gyllenhaal, a final scene with her adopted 8 year old black sister, Annie.

Lying on my couch, Keener’s half-smile, made unusually bright by an L.A. McDonald’s fluorescent lights, was necessary. That’s what Holofcener does. She rounds things off only to make you feel, moments later, unwieldy in her absence. It’s as if the whole affair was made, by some means, to mock you. Credits rolled up my screen while there I was, still on my couch.

Friends With Money

What Holofcener does so well is pinpoint and spotlight her actors’ strengths. She has this uncanny way of condensing their careers into a single gesture or a series of actions. Call it cruel, but it’s a clever choice casting Jennifer Aniston in multiple scenes, squeezing pricey sample face creams, hoping for one last drop. Her character, Olivia, is a pothead, a maid, single, broke, tired, and pissed off. Thwarted by her last mint green Clinique mini-tube, Aniston’s disheartened face — bitterness turned tantrum, and soon turned conniption — has never been better optimized.

Her friends are rich and married, and writing checks to charities. Beyond any romantic comedy where Aniston’s on screen life mimics, to some degree, her much gossiped about off screen life, her scenes as Olivia, alone in the bathroom, thumbnails pinching tubes of pastel-colored face creams, portray a type of hopelessness that in reality is nothing more than pure and outright frustration, but in the movie, acts as its center. Another director might have asked Aniston to pull a few Flashdance "Maniac" moves in the bathroom, or slap on some lipstick, toss her hair a bit, and just go out. But not Holofcener. Aniston returns to Nordstrom’s and sheepishly scours for more samples — one for her and one for "a friend."

Mortimer with Dermot Mulroney

Similarly, Holofcener cast Emily Mortimer in Lovely and Amazing as a twiggy aspiring actress who fudges an audition because she isn’t sexy enough. Later, she dares her date to critique her naked body. Suddenly there she is: bare, bushy, skinny, flawless and flawed in the way any naked body can look like an extreme of either. It’s a strange scene, and perhaps even unbelievable, but Mortimer’s gawky looks fit the part of a willowy actress who isn’t objectively beautiful but has that elusive "something."

Keener as a television writer in Friends with Money, who’s remodeling her house and unknown to her, ruinning her neighbors’ views, is a pitch-perfect amalgam of her many Holofcener roles. Her character, Christine’s, seemingly ideal marriage is about to unravel, her sarcasm is her swordplay, her friends are her tonic, and her son, Max, offers moments of calm as the two read together. In watching those scenes during an escape home to Montreal two weeks ago, I immediately thought of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, and especially the scene where Max crawls under his mother’s (played by Keener) desk and picks at her stocking-ed toes as she types a story he recites to her. Maybe Spike Jonze watches Nicole Holofcener movies too? Maybe she’s one of his favorites? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Walking and Talking

After watching Walking and Talking, I considered taking a cue from some of its assets and main concerns: nurturing friendships, weekends out of the city, wearing overalls, borrowing & returning, therapy. I have attempted four out of the five and succeeded at three. The movie was part of what spurred that side of me itching to feel better, go out more, and trade in my anxieties for concerns less self-involved.

As with Amelia, who’s played by Keener, there’s a neediness that evolves from moving forward. You need someone to bear witness, to validate your effort. And that need, more or less, feels like moving backwards. Change can be disorienting, and in a New York summer, especially exhausting.

Since then I have watched Holofcener’s four features. I have e-mailed one friend detailing a few stylistic connections I made between Holofcener’s films and the episode of Gilmore Girls she directed, "Secrets and Loans." I have even considered future Holofcener titles: Home and Country, Blemishes, Winning Smiles, Sound and Imperfect, A-Ok.

It will soon be two months since the bullet. Three months since I moved to my new apartment. Five months since I began feeling whirlybird uncertainty in crowds, opting for nights in instead of out. And six months since my 25th birthday. I look at that evening in June as a blip, a bookmark keeping my place in case I choose to revisit and consider it, a slight pivot, and the start of this particular summer. Really, it meant nothing, in that slightly maddening way a Holofcener movie means nothing but means something, and then means something big (!) and then means nothing at all (but secretly remains urgent and important). I’ll leave that night and these movies alone for a while. Despite a few setbacks, some midweek bouts of inertia, hooky and halfhearted note keeping, and a sweet tooth for cancelling plans, I’ve started keeping tabs on things I start and things I finish. Ratios, those remedial proportions of work and play, time trapped inside my head vs. time outside of it, time inside my apartment vs. time outside my apartment, it would seem, got lost somewhere in the mix. I’ve started running. There’s that. My neighborhood is quiet in the early mornings. I pace myself and breathe, inhaling and exhaling — a two to two rhythmic ratio, every couple steps.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She twitters here and tumbls here. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here.

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In Which You Get What You Give In Nicole Holofcener's Please Give

Money Can't Buy You Class


Please Give

dir. Nicole Holofcener

90 minutes

Please Give opens with a startling sequence, a parade of breasts being placed into a mammogram scanner. However this may be the most dignified sequence in the film. Nicole Holofcener’s latest film deals quite a bit with death and dignity in ways that are both subtle and ways that whack you right over the head. While the opening scene is one of those head-whackers, the final one is more of a head scratcher, with far less dignity for those involved. 

It’s a little cliché at this point to compare Nicole Holofcener to Woody Allen, but when she says things to the Village Voice like “death is the new yoga,” it’s unavoidable. Sure her films explore the vapid morality of the Manhattan bourgeoisie, and sure she was raised by Charles Joffe, Allen’s longtime producer, but it's this interest in death and the existential terror of growing old that for me puts her in Woody’s company.  

The characters in Please Give are all surrounded by death. The main protagonists, Alex (Oliver Platt), Kate (Catherine Keener) and their daughter Abby, are waiting for their elderly neighbor Andra (Ann Guilbert) to die so they can expand into her apartment, which they have already purchased. Andra, meanwhile, is cared for by her two daughters, Mary (Amanda Peet) and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who she raised after their mother committed suicide a decade before. The two families are surrounded by death in more subtle ways as well. Rebecca administers the aforementioned mammograms for a living while Kate and Alex purchase furniture from the grieving relatives of the recently deceased to sell in their hip overpriced vintage furniture shop.

Kate, the film’s main protagonist, has much in the way of demons to excise. She feels guilt over how much she has, guilt about how she got it, and obsesses over how she can get right with the less fortunate. This obsession often leads her imagination down the darkest of imaginary alleys. When she sees a disheveled black man outside of a restaurant she tries to give him her leftovers, only to find that he is waiting for a table. She imagines the wife of her building’s super to be wheelchair bound for no apparent reason other than it seems to serve her Dickensian image of their poor family. 

Kate’s husband Alex has less of a problem with his own station in life. He chooses to obsess over his own age and virility. He steps out on Kate with a much younger woman for no other reason than to see if he can. Up to the point of the affair we are lead to believe that their relationship and family life seems fine, and it is. While in bed with his mistress she points out that people often say that when someone cheats it is because something is wrong with their relationship. He rejects this and says "some people say that it can help, that it can make it better." With this line he reveals the level to which he has been using this younger woman and just how self-involved the whole affair really was.

Alex had no problems at home, he just needed to feel young. Together with a young man who thinks that administering mammograms must be an awesome job “from a guy’s point of view,” these are the only male characters in the film. But if Holofcener is truly meant to inherit Woody Allen’s mantle, perhaps by making Alex a Howard Stern fan she is righting the wrongs of many of Allen’s portrayals of women.  

The poor child of these two obsessives is Abby. She has serious body-image issues and pretty bad skin. But she is convinced that a pair of $200 jeans can make things better. Kate can’t possibly understand where her daughter learned such superficiality when there are people starving in the streets! Their relationship is strained and volatile. Kate sees in Abby a shallow and entitled child despite her efforts to raise someone less materialistic and needy. When Abby chastises Kate for trying to give $20 to a homeless man and says “you never give me $20! Give him the $5!” Kate hands over the five and says to the man “I’m so ashamed.” Clearly she’s ashamed for all the wrong reasons.  

Throughout Please Give we see Kate use charity to alleviate her class guilt with calamitous results. She can never understand why on one hand her charity doesn’t seem to make her feel any better nor help the people she bestows it on. When she decides to give back a valuable vase to a man whose parents' furniture made Kate a lot of money, he seems untouched by the gesture (as she leaves he accidentally breaks her valuable yet mostly symbolic vase by dropping it on the floor). However since Kate is so overly concerned with her own do-goodery she is unable to see the ways in which her own charity is robbing the recipients of their own dignity.  

My favorite scene in Please Give follows the birthday party scene in which Kate and Alex give their neighbor Andra a box of beauty products as a gift. The party is filled with uncomfortable, awkward, honest moments that come mostly at Andra’s expense. Once the guests all leave we see Andra shuffle out her apartment and down the hall where she tosses the box of creams and conditioners down the rubbish shaft. A dignified moment for one of the film’s most complex comic characters.  

Like Woody Allen’s protagonists, Kate and Alex are not perfect people. They aren’t perfectly awful, either. There is something very human and normal about their shallowness, and there are moments where each of them transcend this trope as well. For Alex, a sweet scene with his daughter where she confronts him about his affair. For Kate it’s a very touching and sincere couple of scenes with Rebecca, the radiologist daughter of their elderly neighbor. Rebecca is the woman Kate wishes to be. She lives as selflessly as one can realistically imagine to. However she, too, is incredibly unhappy. Kate seems to recognize this sadness in Rebecca.  

As the film closes with Alex and Kate buying Abby her jeans (which at first seemed ridiculously expensive until we see what these people pay for used furniture) I’m not sure what thought we are supposed to be left with. On one hand Kate and Alex may be coming to the conclusion that perhaps their daughter’s happiness is not only in the balance, but also a just reward for a different form of charity. On the other hand, the viewer is left with a picture of a girl who, while obviously very happy and confident in her jeans, is doomed to a life of superficiality and narcissism, just like her parents.

For her it's these jeans, for her dad it’s a sexy young dermatologist, for her mom it’s a larger apartment. They are the things we think will make us happier, but just give us more to feel shitty about. And from that there is no escape. Says Holofcener, "It's more of an existential than a circumstantial sadness about our helplessness and the inevitability of death and the pointlessness of everything.” It’s a Sisyphean dilemma. Watching them pass on these problems to their daughter is heart-wrenching.

Woody Allen recently said: "Everybody knows how awful the world is and what a terrible situation it is and each person distorts it in a certain way that enables him to get through. Some people distort it with religious things. Some people distort it with sports, with money, with love, with art, and they all have their own nonsense about what makes it meaningful, and all but nothing makes it meaningful." Please Give is about just such distortions. It isn't a bad movie. Its a good movie about bad people whose distortions make them seem worse than the rest of us. In truth however, todos somos yuppie furniture dealers. Give or take a few manipulations.

David Hill is a writer living in Brooklyn. This is his first appearance in these pages. He twitters here.

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