Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), already established as a kind and long-suffering sort, sits before a man on a blind date. She offers a frank statement about growing up in New York, accepting the good of such an upbringing, acknowledging the drawbacks. With the words barely out of her mouth, the stock asshole sitting opposite her pours out his disdain for the city as a place to raise children. He then proceeds, printout in hand, to take issue with Rebecca's hair color, rankled at the perceived difference to the color indicated in the profile that he's holding. She politely points out that there really is no misrepresentation, but he will have none if it.
That rencontre, early in Nicole Holofcener's Please Give, is reminiscent of a scene in her 2001 film, Lovely and Amazing, the one in which the Emily Mortimer character, Elizabeth, asks the man with whom she's sleeping to critique her body, which be proceeds to do with dispassionate thoroughness.
Both scenes would seem to strike a chord with women who have had to suffer the cold scrutiny of men. The problem, as Ms. Holofcener proceeds (or regresses), with this, her fourth feature, is the power of any such insight or candor is divested of its power by the complete lack of nuance in the characters and the exchange. This continues to be a pattern with Holofcener; she increasingly writes not so much characters as strongly evocative types and sends them crashing into one another. She does generally create more fully rounded female characters, although I'm not sure that's the case here.
Rebecca later mentions her "computer date" to a patient. The problem is that people don't usually show up on such dates with computer printouts in hand. The problem is that the male half of the date might as well be a computer himself for human complexity with with he is imbued, which is to say none.
Our young and diminutive friend, Eugene (Thomas Ian Nicholas), by the way, is another of the writer/director's non-character male characters from these last couple of outings (including the previous Friends With Money). As a foil to stock asshole, he's stock sensitive guy. Having invested him with requisite decency, there seems to have been no thought to giving him a brain. He's given little to say and what little we do hear makes us grateful enough for it. At one point, during an initial date, he comments on Rebecca's job assisting women with mammograms as something of a male fantasy. Really? Most of Holofcener's men would seem to be in need a trip to see the Wizard, whether to pick up a heart, a brain, or a better bank account. She might well agree, although I suspect we would differ on the culprit.
And it's absolute nadir, Please Give has Kate sitting in her antiques store, talking up the tacky bookcases she has recently bought out of pity from a brother (another Holofcener vet, Kevin Corrigan, from the superior Walking and Talking) and sister out of pity. While the potential buyers comtemplate the bookcases, Kate looks over to an even more tacky chair from the same lot, remembering an earlier conversation about furniture being haunted. The brother had told her that the chair was the very one in which his mother died. A wry smile appears on Kate's face and I thought, "Don't do it."
But alas, Holofcener did. In a gesture not even worthy of a good made-for-television movie, the poor old woman's ghostly image appears long enough to be blessed by Kate and then evaporates back to the netherworld. Lucky, lucky dead woman. Though let us hope that she's not subjected to anything like the film's uber senstive piano and acoustic guitar score, which deserves to be releated to the purgatorial coffee shop or yoga studio whence it came.
I found myself watching Rebecca Hall, thinking I preferred seeing her when given a more complex character in Woody Allen's Vicky, Christina, Barcelona. Take a moment to chart Woody Allen's dispiriting representation of women (or humanity for that matter) for the past twenty years or so and consider the irony of that statement.
Or simply regard a brief scene late in Please Give in which Kate returns a vase to the man from whom she bought furniture at the beginning of the film. Her ever-mounting guilt has driven her to return what was thought to be a worthless vase that is actually worth hundreds of dollars. Of course, Kate doesn't return any of the thousands of dollars from the table acquired from the same clueless guy for a song. The man takes the vase with some incredulity and tells her that she's done something unusual. Kate walks away, guilt temporarily assuaged. Then we hear a crash. What's this? Before any ambiguity can mount, we immediately hear an expletive. He dropped the vase. And that is irony, Nicole-Holofcener-style. It crashes.