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As The Roches’ quirky “No Shoes” plays in the opening sequence of Please Give, writer/director Nicole Holofcener leads viewers through a three-minute, close-up montage of breasts being flopped onto a mammography machine and unceremoniously squashed.No faces or figures make it into the frame, presenting the sort of fragmentary view of the female body that in most any other context would constitute blatant objectification but here reads as a desexualized, intensely vulnerable collage of femininity.These are women on the verge of potentially devastating news, after all, stripped bare, even as the comic vaudevillian flair of the song distracts from the fact.

This is me trying to maturely intellectualize this scene in hindsight.Now let me bow my head, fidget like a kid in trouble, and tell you what I was thinking in the theater.Flaccid mounds sprawled across the machine’s tray, nipples ranging from mangled pencil erasers to the tips of bad bananas, gross!That’s what I was thinking.Trust me, as a supposedly grown-up real woman with her very own pair I write this with no small amount of shame and surprise in my reaction to these unglamorized real-women’s breasts. A deluge of Victoria’s Secret ads and the like (that’s right, the devil made me do it) has trained my subconscious to interject: if you’re going to show us breasts make them pretty and unsquashed!In fact, make them enhanced and airbrushed while you’re at it because stark reality makes me very uncomfortable. And when I’m very uncomfortable about such things it leads me to question my standing as an inherently good person! And just like that, in three-minute’s time, Holofcener effectively put me in the mindset of central character, Kate, before she was even introduced.

Not that I know what Kate thinks about breast montages.I do know that Kate (played by the always brilliant Catherine Keener) and husband Alex (played by the always consistent Oliver Platt) troll estate sales for items they can mark up in their high-end New York City store, that they also purchased the neighboring apartment and are waiting for the elderly woman who lives there to die so they can annex it, and that they have a teenaged daughter (Sarah Steele) who can only feel better about herself in a $200 pair of jeans her mom won’t let her buy. Kate explains to her that $200 goes a long way to help the homeless.Kate’s own $200 jeans are fine, however, because she is a “grown-up.”This is a family rife with such contradictions.And the more Kate can’t manage to look away from the stark realities of the less fortunate and the woman next door and the people selling furniture to her, the more she begins to question her standing as an inherently good person.Because, really, this isn’t so much about boobs.

Please Give isn’t entirely about Kate, either.For all those who campaigned for a Betty White comeback on “Saturday Night Live,” I present you with your new project.Legendary television sidekick Ann Guilbert (from “The Nanny” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”) needs some love after her performance as the cantankerous, socially inept Andra, aka the woman in the way of Kate and Alex’s apartment expansion.Who doesn’t love to watch a little old woman in apricot-colored curls and fuzzy house shoes shove a gift box of silk pajamas aside and grumble, “They’re too fancy to sleep in.I’ll save them for a special occasion”?Andra brings out the best in one granddaughter, mammography lab tech Rebecca (played by Rebecca Hall), and the worst in another, Mary (Amanda Peet).

The momentum of Holofcener’s screenplay hinges on the match-up of characters repeatedly straining for pleasantries in unpleasant situations such as Kate and Rebecca with the likes of the filterless Andra and Mary.At Andra’s birthday dinner, for instance, the subject of the apartment expansion comes up, leaving Kate speechless.

“You’ll have to change the tile in there.It’s all covered with mold,” Andra suggests, scrunched-faced, while poking a fork at her slice of cake.

“I’m sure they’ll gut it, grandma,” Mary turns to say to her.“You’ll be dead so you don’t have to worry about it.”

Such moments regularly disallow Kate from ignoring the implications of her actions and in turn spurs Kate’s increasingly overwhelming, and often comic, self-scrutiny.

What she does with her self-discoveries, how she manages her guilt, her uncomfortable truths, and her relationships in the end may raise more questions than answers as to how, exactly, one should best navigate the paths between personal happiness and social responsibility, between stark realities and pleasing constructs.Without dropping any spoilers I’ll just say that I’m not so sure I’m okay with Kate in the end.I walked away feeling that even I had made more progress in the course of Please Give than she seems to have.But, then again, maybe that’s the whole point.

You can watch the trailer for Please Give here.

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Cynthia Hawkins TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at cynthiahawkins.net.

22 Responses to “Please Give Bares All”

  1. Jessica Blau says:

    Well I’ll definitely leave the house to see this one (as opposed to waiting for its release in Netflix). Love your self-analysis via the squished and temporarily mutilated breasts.

  2. Art Edwards says:

    What an excellent review. Well-written and well-considered.

    Wait, you can watch these things before they come out on Netflix?

    • Joe Daly says:

      Wait- what? What, does Netflix have a theater you can go to or something? I’m confused…

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Amazing, I know, but true! I’d had some vague pre-kid memory of there being such a thing but thought it was all some happy dream … until last week ;) Thanks, Art!

  3. Joe Daly says:

    Sounds like an interesting flick. I appreciate your comments at the end, where you acknowledge that your feelings on Kate are left open. I generally enjoy that kind of ambiguity in a movie because it generally seems more authentic when the movie ends without pat conclusions or easy answers.

    I will most certainly keep my grapes peeled for this movie.

  4. Matt says:

    Nice review, Cynthia.

    I want to see this. Keener is indeed always great. Have you seen her performance in the almost-straight-to-DVD An American Crime? Terrifying.

    Unfortunately for me–and Joe–it’s only playing at like, one theater here in town, and only about three times a day. Major pain in the ass.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      No, haven’t seen that one. Just looked it up though. Wow. The trailer alone is terrifying!

  5. dwoz says:

    OH, GOD…I look to the day that I am FREE….FREE to see movies that don’t have heroines that are animated with large almond eyes and tiny noses.

    Free to see movies that have the word “fuck” in them.

    Free to see movies that have despair and other mouldy artifacts of the human condition.

    Thank you, my dear, for a wonderful review.

  6. “if you’re going to show us breasts make them pretty and unsquashed! In fact, make them enhanced and airbrushed while you’re at it because stark reality makes me very uncomfortable. And when I’m very uncomfortable about such things it leads me to question my standing as an inherently good person!”

    Interesting. But then: specific to breasts? You could say “make them pretty and unsquashed” when talking about any aspect of us, really. We don’t like anything unenhanced and not airbrushed; fill in Madonna’s wrinkles, airbrush Beyonce’s cellulite, give Robert Pattinson better abs.

    We tend to be abhorrent of reality, which so often disappoints us.

    Oh, and Oliver Platt? Ice Harvest.

    I do love Catherine Keener, though. Such a fantastically beautiful woman. Love her voice and delivery.

    Also, Amanda Peet. I don’t know if I need to know any more.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      “We tend to be abhorrent of reality, which so often disappoints us.” — so true, and so … depressing *sigh*.

      I don’t know why Amanda Peet isn’t a bigger deal. She’s terrific!

  7. Simon Smithson says:

    I dig Catherine Keener in just about anything.

    A question on the topic of breasts (huh. That’s the second time I’ve said that today).

    Do you think we wanted perfection, so we created it in culture, or do you think culture created images of perfection, and now we want it?

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Good question! We’d have to have created it at some point and time, right? I wonder also if our ability to manipulate reality through technology and surgery and so forth has just made that desire for perfection infinitely worse? Raising two daughters, I think about this all the time because they get representations of the ideal, or an understanding of how people strive for this ideal, from *every* possible direction, every day. No kidding. Also fascinating how the ideal has evolved over the years …

  8. Jordan Ancel says:

    Great review, Cynthia. I love Katherine Keener and Oliver Platt. Looking forward to seeing it.

  9. Richard Cox says:

    Catherine Keener is always awesome, isn’t she?

    I thought your analysis and review of the film were great. I can’t wait to see it, though I notice it isn’t showing in Tulsa at the moment. Somehow we get a lot of limited release films here but you have to watch carefully for them because they might only run for a week or so.

    Reviews like this always make me examine my current work for symbols and complexity and emotional resonance. I imagine someone writing a review like this and I wonder if they would have anything to say like what you have described above. It’s one way the consumption of media and art influences the creation of it.

    P.S. The breasts in Victoria’s Secret are airbrushed?

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Thanks! I caught it at a screening, but I know it starts here June 18th. Maybe it’s the same for T-town? It’s been out since April in other parts of the country.

      PS — Surely enhanced if not airbrushed! I love those sites that catch ridiculous photoshopping of magazine spreads, by the way, like the time Emma Watson’s whole leg went missing in W.

  10. Aaron Dietz says:

    Good, I see a lot of Catherine Keener fans up there in the comments. There’s something about her, for sure.

    More and more, as I avoid commercials, block ads on the Internet, etcetera, I’m starting to wake up and think of bodies as oddly interesting, fascinating objects of wonderful diversity. It’s really quite appealing to not be bogged down by a constricted point of view of what’s pretty. Lovely post!

  11. [...] written critical essays on Inception, Please Give, the Robert Duvall effect, the Academy Award nominees for Best Soundtrack, the movie formerly known [...]

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