By Eric D. Snider (reprinted from 1/28/10 -- Sundance Film Festival)
By the looks of things, Nicole Holofcener's muse must be Catherine Keener. The tart-tongued, throaty-voiced actress has appeared in all four of her feature films, Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money, and the new Please Give. Keener, one of the most reliably entertaining actresses currently working, specializes in sardonic, flawed characters -- a perfect fit for Holofcener's image of the modern American woman.
Please Give has Keener playing Kate, a New Yorker who owns an antique-furniture shop with her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt). Kate is plagued with the guilt of the well-to-do. She'll give $20 to a homeless man but won't give her teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), the money to buy a pair of jeans. She looks for volunteer opportunities in the community, but everything just makes her feel sadder and guiltier.
Adding to Kate's guilt is the way she and Alex stock their store: They buy furniture from the next of kin of recently deceased people. The grieving relatives are usually in a hurry to get rid of Mom's old stuff, and they tend not to know whether it's worth anything. Kate and Alex have taken this line of thinking into their personal lives, too, buying the apartment next to theirs, to take effect upon the death of the current tenant. They hope she will die soon so they can knock down the wall and combine the units. It's every New Yorker's dream.