Quirk McGurks. That’s my new label for elements found in independent cinema that are quirky for quirky sakes. It all started in 2008’s Sunshine Cleaning where Amy Adams’ character’s son Oscar liked to lick things because he liked to lick. Thinking longer about Quirk McGurks, I realized that in Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, a Quirk McGurk appears when the youngest son in the family starts masturbating in a library and proceeds to wipe his seed on the books. Directors add moments like these in their films to establish some sort of character development and off-beat humor when really the scenarios comes off as random and redundant. So, when watching Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give, I kept an open mind and my guard up. However, Please Give is refreshing, funny, and original and is quite aware of the Quirk McGurk factor.
In Manhattan, we follow two families. One family consists of an elderly lady named Andra, played by Ann Morgan Guilbert. Andra, however, is very old so her granddaughter Rebecca, played by Rebecca Hall, visits her everyday and makes sure she’s fine. While Rebecca takes care of Andra, Rebecca’s sister Mary, played by Amanda Peet, disregards her sick relative and carries on with her existence. The other family is Andra’s neighbors; married couple Kate, played by Catherine Keener, and Alex, played by Oliver Platt. The husband and wife manage a furniture store where their inventory consists of items that belonged to people who have passed away. Mary and Alex both know Andra isn’t in top notch condition and they keep an ear out for her too. However, once Andra dies, the married couple have plans in regards to extending their apartment and purchasing Andra’s old residence and furniture. As Andra’s condition worsens, the two families decide to touch base over supper and build more of a connection between both parties. No one knows, however, how much this dinner will effect every member in attendance; romances flair and new motives are arranged.
Please Give is a dramedy and Holofcener directs carefully. She is able to take the script, she has also written, and transfer her vision successfully. She is able to give her actors distinct motivations and is very successful in pulling genuine emotions from both her story and her players without using Quirk McGurks. The script at hand is written honestly and is paced moderately well; flowing from once scene to another and connecting without difficulty. The decisions the characters make are backed up successfully and are handled very well. With this said, there’s a major character arc that feels forced and is the one plot point that feels unnatural. The arc in question is the romance that arises. The situation adds conflict and moves the movie along but the initial start to the problem feel very unmotivated and not in a quirky sort of way. It’s written as if Holofcner meant to rewrite that portion at a later date and never got around to fine tuning certain characteristics. The arc itself is in a tight spot though because as much as I can open my imagination up to weird happenings, I couldn’t believe that these two characters would find themselves attracted to one another. Not just physically but emotionally as well. It was a piece that didn’t fit into the grand scheme of things. If you bypass that bump in the road, everything else is fine and both dramatic and comedic elements are well balanced.
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The convincing performances make the script stand out too. One performance in particular shined bight in every scene and that performance was Morgan Guilbert’s portrayal of Andra. The character’s ignorance to everyone around her and her ability to freely speak her mind were both captivating and hilarious attributes to the character and Morgan Guilbert nails it in every frame. Her blunt deliveries and her prolonged clueless facial expressions will no doubly have you laughing out loud. Keener’s performance is quite layered and features a realization that adds even more to her faithful performance. The only performance that didn’t click with the rest of the ensemble was Thomas Ian Nicholas’ portrayal of Eugene. Eugene meets Rebecca and is supposedly entranced by her in an instance, however, the audience never feels the connection Eugene has found. His line deliveries are forced as well as his awkward traits and quips. Nothing felt natural and it kept reminding me that Nicholas was miscast. It also doesn’t help that he’s given only a handful of scenes to create an interesting persona because Nicholas drops the ball whenever he can and is unable to meet those requirements.
Please Give is a rewarding experience that features strong balanced performances. Being that this film was released within the first quarter of the year, it may fly under a lot of radars and go as a grossly unrecognized film. There’s a lot of good here. The script is, for the most part, Quirk McGurk free (I say “most part” because there are a couple scenes where characters have a fascination with seeing leaves change but Holofcener knows when to back off and bring the film back to reality fast). With her honorable script and her swift direction, Nicole Holofcener’s film is a winner.