Nicole Holofcener with Catherine Keener
Born in New York City, writer-director Nicole Holofcener moved to Los Angeles when she was twelve. She returned to New York to attend the Columbia Graduate Film Program after she worked on several films as a production assistant and apprentice editor.
While at Columbia, Holofcener made two shorts, It’s Richard I Love and Angry, the latter which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. A few years later Holofcener returned to Sundance with her first feature, Walking and Talking. Starring Catherine Keener and Anne Heche, Miramax purchased the film at the festival. Her next film, Lovely & Amazing, starring Keener, Emily Mortimer and Brenda Blethyn, reached a wider audience while her next film, Friends with Money, starring Keener, Frances McDormand Jennifer Aniston, received more critical and commercial success.
In each of these films, Holofcener feature women dealing with contemporary life in often socio-economic terms. Money matters in the work of Holofcener and her latest feature, Please Give, is no exception.
Reuniting with Keener, the actor plays Kate, a woman uneasy with the ethic challenges of sales at the Manhattan store she runs with her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt). At home, the couple live with their daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele) and next door to an miserable elderly woman, Andra (Ann Guilbert), whose home the couple own and will occupy as soon as the dilapidating Andra dies.
Taking care of Andra are her two granddaughters, the sweet Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the sour Mary (Amanda Peet) who have their own peculiar relationships with Kate and company.
Amusing and admirable for its class-consciousness -- in country where nearly everybody believes he or she is middle class -- Please Give looks how some negotiate materialism and humanism, comfort and compassion.
Now a resident of Venice Beach, California, with her two sons, we spoke to Holofcener about her latest film.
Why did you want to make this film?
Nicole Holofcener: Why? Really? That’s a really specific question. The story wanted to be told. I was interested in all these themes and topics, although when I was writing it I wasn’t really aware that this is what I wanted to be writing about, but out it came. [Laughs]. I guess that’s why I want to make movies in general, because it helps me deal with the things inside my head.
So when you approach a new screenplay it just develops as you write it? You do not have major themes going into it.
NH: Not really. When I knew I was going to be writing about these people in this situation in New York I imagined a lot would be about the guilt and discomfort around somebody buying an apartment and waiting for the tenant to croak. So I had an idea and when the characters developed I realized what I was writing about.
Is there a particular character you identify with more than the others?
NH: I definitely identify with Kate the most. But I also identify with Abby and Rebecca. Those three are kind of amalgamations of me.
Why do you think you identify with Kate?
NH: Because she’s so pretty [Laughs] and skinny. Well, I gave her all my stuff. I have a lot of feelings about the disparity among the rich and the poor and feeling comfortable being a well off person – comparatively – and how to deal with that. Should I volunteer? Should I feel bad? Should I ignore it? Should I move to Africa and give up my life? Trying to figure out what’s right for me.
Kate’s approach is a traditionally bourgeois response: give money to individuals. Is that the most successful way of addressing social disparities?
NH: [Laughs]. No. It’s huge, but I’m not quite sure what else she could do. I give money to people all the time and I don’t think I’m saving the world. I’m just handing someone some money.
Well you do not have Kate knocking on the door of the Mayor of New York demanding change.
NH: Right, that’s not her. Just like it’s not her to go volunteer for children with Downs Syndrome. She’s trying to figure out what’s comfortable for her and what her limitations are and still be okay. I am not knocking on anybody’s doors either and yet I’m consumed with it. So what’s wrong with me? How can I still like myself and know that I’m not a political activist and doing everything I can every waking moment to fix the world. Why aren’t we all? It’s insane that we’re not; we’re not, I’m not.
Right, one of the interesting things I found about her character was how conservative viewers may view Kate as “limousine liberal” yet it would invariably bring the question back to one’s self. How much do you do? She’s trying on a deep emotional level, a weight of concern she can’t overcome. As you were writing the story – going back to my second question – was this something you noticed or did the character develop on its own?
NH: The character developed completely on its own. It’s always interesting and kind of surprising how things come out unconsciously yet there so indicative of exactly what I’m going through. So it comes out whether I plan it or not.
Can you discuss the role of skin in the film?
NH: I’m not aware of any skin theme [Laughs], although Lovely and Amazing has a skin theme, too. I know, the tan skin of Mary, the zitty skin of Abby and Alex. I could analyze it right now and tell you, but I would be doing it like a third party. It’s probably more of a coincidence than something real to analyze.
This brings me to what may be my last question. What do you think about interviews where you talk about yourself and the work? Does it serve the work? Should the work speak for itself?
NH: I wish the work would speak for itself. It’s really hard for me, especially since I don’t set out to write about these things. If I could talk about them beautifully I wouldn’t be making the movie. I wish people could have their own experience and I wouldn’t have to explain any part of it. It feels very fraudulent, to be honest.
NH: But I want people to be intrigued enough to read this and then go see the film.
You consider it more of a marketing necessity than an artistic one?
NH: Oh, absolutely. I don’t think anybody thinks it’s an artistic necessity. Well, maybe. Some people do go on and on, right? They like to talk about their work.
It varies, but I do think, in a way, it is an artistic necessity. A film or any other text is not an isolated event. It has connections to the rest of the world. It does not stop at a point where it is not part of existence. It fluctuates. If someone sees this film and then reads the article I imagine it would alter her or his opinion just like this interview has altered my opinion about the film just discussing it with you.
NH: It’s definitely fun to read other people talking about their films. Nobody has ever asked me the question you just asked which, of course, I liked. [Laughs]. If I see a movie I love to read about it afterwards, but I don’t know if it infuses my experience in a different way or it’s just really fun. - John Esther, Film Editor
Please Give opened April 30th, 2010 in select theatres! Now playing at Landmark and Century Evanston for all you interested Chicagoans!