Please Give (R) (90 min.) — The performances in Nicole Holofcener's dramedy are so fine that the story's aimlessness isn't noticeable until the movie ends. In only 90 minutes we learn quite well who these characters are. What their quirks, contradictions and follies mean is another, unanswered question.
Catherine Keener anchors her third Holofcener project as Kate, a Manhattan dealer of vintage furnishings obtained from the estates of dead people. Kate and husband Alex (Oliver Platt) lowball the survivors and resell the goods at premium prices, so casually callous that it's darkly funny. Kate feels guilty about this, compensating for greed by compulsively offering handouts to homeless people and volunteering for causes she can't handle emotionally.
Alex isn't as caring. He's selfish, enjoying wham-bam trysts with Mary (Amanda Peet), the granddaughter of an elderly neighbor (scene-stealer Ann Morgan Guilbert) whose apartment he's waiting to claim when she dies. Mary isn't sentimental at all about her grandmother, putting her at odds with a wallflower sister (Rebecca Hall) who's devoted to the old woman.
Possibly because nothing of real consequence is happening, Holofcener tosses in Alex and Kate's teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), who spends much of the film whining because Mom won't buy her a pair of $200 jeans and worrying about her acne. Ah, but Mary is a dermatologist who can help, so the girl becomes the tenuous link between all of the grownups' amoral actions.
It's a pleasure watching these actors working at the top of their games, and for that reason alone Please Give entertains. Few women in film convey such honest feminine feelings as Keener, and Platt's doughboy confidence is welcome any time. Hall and Peet share a prickly chemistry that works, while Steele plays smarter than the average movie teen. But when the fadeout comes, viewers may feel as unsatisfied with the movie as these characters are with their lives. B-
Steve Persall, Times film critic