Friends with Money
Friends with Money

USA, 2006. Rated R. 88 minutes.

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack, Jason Isaacs, Simon McBurney, Scott Caan, Ty Burrell, Bob Stephenson, Greg Germann, Romy Rosemond, Timm Sharp, Hailey Noelle Johnson
Writer: Nicole Holofcener
Original Music: Rickie Lee Jones, Craig Richey, Deb Talan, Steve Tannen
Cinematography: Terry Stacey
Producer: Anthony Bregman
Nicole Holofcener


Grade: B Review by Carlo Cavagna

Friends with Money is, in the words of Frances McDormand's fashion designer on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a movie about people with people problems. These people are people who could just as easily be any of us—any of us who have lots of money, that is, or whose friends all have lots of money. ‘Cause those people—they definitely have people problems. People without money—they're too busy having other problems to have people problems, or at least the kind of people problems these people have.

The friends with money are three couples: Jane (McDormand) and Aaron (Simon McBurney), whom everyone except Jane believes is gay; screenwriting duo Christine (Catherine Keener) and David (Jason Isaacs), whose efforts to expand their house brings out hidden tensions; and Franny (Joan Cusack) and Matt (Greg Germann), who have even more money than the others.

Aniston, Keener and Cusack
Jennifer Aniston (left), Catherine Keener (center), and Joan Cusack star in Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Money.

Olivia is the lone friend without money, and she's also the lone friend without a Significant Other. This makes her the recipient of frequent unsolicited advice and offers to set her up with men. Sympathy may falter a bit at this point, because this Olivia looks exactly like Jennifer Aniston, so obviously being man-free is a choice. And, as we soon discover, being penniless is also a choice. Olivia doesn't have to work in other people's homes as a maid and furtively borrow their vibrators; she could easily return to teaching at a fancy private school and date the students' rich single dads.

That's okay, because writer/director Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing, Walking and Talking) doesn't require your sympathy for Olivia or anyone else. Holofcener has a gift for wonderfully oblivious and in-denial characters, the subtly ridiculous situations that such characters get themselves into, and acerbic dialogue. That's plenty, but you can sympathize a little if you want. After all, these people are human beings. Their problems are recognizable, even though Holofcener has transplanted them into a milieu we may not recognize—the jaded, privileged, superficial world of Los Angeles high society.

It's a light touch Holofcener uses, and her actors are her allies, particularly the women. McDormand always creates memorable, meticulously realized characters. Keener, who has worked in all of Holofcener's previous features—all two of them—specializes in this kind of matter-of-fact, play-it-straight comedy/satire. And Aniston is actually better suited to these indie films than to the glamorous big-star vehicles. Her star wattage doesn't translate to the big screen, as box office results have repeatedly proven, so despite her fame she's actually not bad at smaller, more ordinary characters, like in The Good Girl, Office Space, and here.

There's not much analysis, not much resolution, and not much rumination about What It All Means, but if you saw Lovely and Amazing you know to expect that. Holofcener just offers up a slice of these people's lives, in the hopes that you'll see something you recognize in this exaggerated context, and or at least laugh a bit at their hopelessly distorted perceptions of the world.

Review © May 2006 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2006 Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

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