Single, frequently stoned and working as a maid, Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) is an object of ridicule and concern by her circle of friends; constantly pitying or fretting over her, they simply cannot fathom why she hasn't sealed herself in the same airless domestic bubble that they find themselves trapped in. Jane (Frances McDormand) is a hot-tempered fashion designer, and has grown increasingly neurotic and disheveled since her metrosexual husband is more interested in pawing cashmere sweaters than her.
Christine (Catherine Keener) is locked in a constant battle with her man over the screenplay they're co-writing and over the massive addition they're building on their opulent home in the Hollywood hills. Then there's Franny (Joan Cusack), who displays her inner joy by scrunching up her nose and making contented smiley faces reminiscent of an infant with gas. Ostensibly she's the happiest, with the coziest marriage and the biggest checkbook, but her superficial bliss only gives her license to feel guilty and worry over everyone else's misery.
The men in their worlds are afterthoughts, either insensitive louts or ambiguously gay but lacking one is tantamount to a cardinal sin. The other great sin is poverty, and though her friends offer charity, Olivia is too proud to take it. Oh, sure, she feels pathetic stocking up on tiny free cosmetic samples and borrowing vibrators from clients' drawers, but at least it's by choice (she gave up a posh teaching job in search of mental clarity).
Surrounded by fine actresses all giving strong performances, Aniston at first seems a little lost, but it's not easy lending gravity to a character this hollow. Solid support is provided by Scott Caan as the shallow asshole who hits on an old friend in front of her and then hits Olivia up for cash; Bob Stephenson as her shy new friend; and Simon McBurney as Jane's sexually confused but sweetly devoted husband.
As the opening-night feature at this year's Sundance film festival, Friends with Money was touted as the poster child of the fest. In many ways it's also the poster child for the current state of indie-filmmaking in America: It's self-absorbed, marginal, less independent than it claims to be and reliant on star power, but still far smarter than the regular cineplex fare.
Director-writer Nicole Holofcener is certainly comfortable in the realm of gal talk and sisterly bonding, having helmed many episodes of Sex and the City and two very good previous features, Walking and Talking, and Lovely and Amazing (both starring Keener). Her writing is crisp, sharply observed and full of intimacy and funny little nuances, and she's assembled a terrific cast. The problem is that ultimately it's hard to find sympathy for people who have so much but get so little out of it. Having been richly rewarded with wealth, glamour and something resembling love, they find themselves asking, "Is that all there is?" As the credits roll, viewers may ask themselves the same question.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].
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