Friends With Money
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack


Friends With Money

It's a rare film these days that doesn't hit us over the head with plot twists, deadly danger or explosions. Nicole Holofcener's new film "Friends With Money," which she wrote as well as directed, is that rare one, and the people in it - real, live people like you and me - keep their explosions pretty well contained.

"Friends With Money" is a Los Angeles story - the story of thirtyish Olivia, played by Jennifer Aniston, and her three women friends - played by Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack. They're older than Olivia, they're all married, and unlike her they all have money. Olivia used to teach in an exclusive private school in Santa Monica, until the kids started throwing quarters at her. Now she cleans houses.

What story there is here is told at restaurant dinners, shopping expeditions, and in kitchens and bedrooms. Everybody wants to find Olivia a guy, preferably a husband-type, but everybody also has problems. Keener and her husband are a screenwriting team, that is until they begin imitating their characters; McDormand and her husband are clothing designers - she of women's dresses, he of men's socks. She has anger issues, he - well, he may be gay. Only Cusack and her husband, rich far beyond the norm, seem reasonably able to deal with their life.

Holofcener tells these intimacies in a thoughtful, nicely paced manner; unrushed, without sudden revelations or hidden agendas. The women meet, they talk frankly to each other, they support each other, but they are no better at it all than you and I are. And sometimes they even make the kind of horrendous mistakes that we make too.

"Friends With Money" is barely ninety minutes long, but it's long enough to let us sense whole lives being lived before us. Holofcener is lucky with her cast, or maybe that's unfair to her directing talent. She doesn't rush through scenes, she doesn't overcut to chop them into little bits, she lets them breathe until they've given up their insights - and yet nothing feels slow or dull. At one point Keener's character does a good deed for Olivia, which turns to dust or worse. But it's not the end of the world, and part of the movie's power is that nothing in it exceeds what reasonably normal people do with their lives.

I've talked about the women, but the men in the film have lives of their own as well - some good, some not so good. Simon McBurney, as McDormand's husband the sock designer, manages to show us his committed love for her while also letting us speculate about his own underlying drives. Olivia has two men in the course of the film, plus an earlier lover whom she cannot let go of. And we understand why she does what she does. Aniston has not been known for subtlety as an actress, but if you watch her during the movie's final shot, you'll see a great piece of very complex acting. "Friends With Money" isn't a great film, but it is lovely, and touching, and amusing all at the same time. Do you really want more?