REVIEW: Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet ask indie audiences to “Please Give”

By Sean O’Connell Please Give (** out of 4)

An obsession with death casts a pall over “Please Give,” an Upper East Side slice of navel gazing from Manhattan-born writer-director Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money,” “Lovely & Amazing”).

Catherine Keener, who has appeared in all four of Holofcener’s films, wears her guilt on her sleeve as Kate. The financially comfortable Gothamite regrets that she earns her living purchasing boutique furniture from the apartments of the recently deceased and reselling it — at marked up prices — to similar yuppies. To assuage her guilt, Kate hands out money to the homeless that hang around her home but ignores her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), and petulant teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele).

It’s not all doom and gloom. Kate and Alex purchased the apartment next door with the intention of expanding their modest home. Oh, wait. I take that back. It is morbid, as they have to wait for the apartment’s 91-year-old resident, surly Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), to kick the bucket.

Until then, Abby bonds with Andra’s youngest granddaughter, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), while Alex flirts with Andra’s oldest granddaughter, Mary (Amanda Peet). Self-centered characters reflect on dying, or piss and moan about growing old. Abby fears Kate will contemplate suicide. Rebecca actually travels out of the city to watch the autumn leaves turn color, a symbolic gesture of vibrancy fading into nature’s grave.

Somber? You betcha. Multi-faceted performances from Keener and Hall bring out the heart in Holofcener’s material. But it’s impossible to shake the fact that “Please Give” is a downer. The little bits of laughter that punch through the gloom come from dark punch lines, as when Kate mistakes a rumpled, African American gentleman for homeless. Her mistake only fuels her oppressive guilt.

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