DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
FRIENDS WITH MONEY (director/writer: Nicole Holofcener; cinematographer: Terry Stacey; editor: Robert Frazen; music: Craig Richey and Rickie Lee Jones; cast: Catherine Keener (Christine), Jennifer Aniston (Olivia), Frances McDormand (Jane), Joan Cusack (Franny), Simon McBurney (Aaron), Jason Isaacs (David), Scott Caan (Mike), Greg Germann (Matt), Max Burkholder (Max), Ty Burrell (Aaron #2), Bob Stephenson (Marty); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Anthony Bregman; Sony Pictures Classics; 2006)

 
"Promises to say more, but never goes further than giving us small observations of modern urban life."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is talented writer-director Nicole Holofcener's (“Walking and Talking”/“Lovely & Amazing”) third so-called smart feature that is effortlessly done but when all is said and done there doesn't seem much substance on the plate. Nevertheless Ms. Holofcener's has a good ear for picking up what's of concern to the female leads and laying on us in an amusing way the trials and tribulations between four longtime women friends in their upscale West Los Angeles neighborhood, who are dealing with their personal problems, their shifting relationships and modern everyday living experiences. The ensemble cast features four terrific performances from Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack, who give their idiosyncratic characters the breath and staying power that keeps us glued to the screen watching how each handles their midlife crisis (Aniston in her 30s and the others in their 40s). Unfortunately it only promises to say more, but never goes further than giving us small observations of modern urban life.

Three of the friends are married and wealthy in various degrees, Christine (Catherine Keener), Jane (Frances McDormand) and Franny (Joan Cusack), while the fourth, Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), is clueless about what she wants in life, is single, a pothead, still pining over her boyfriend dumping her to marry another, and uncertain of her career choices after quitting as a high school teacher and becoming a housekeeper. Her friends talk behind her back voicing concern that she doesn't have a man, has no money saved and has taken a low level status job. But Olivia's friends are not without problems of their own. Christine and her husband David (Jason Isaacs) are feuding screenwriters who get even more stressed-out when collaborating and realize their problems might be irreconcilable when the neighbors are angry that their new addition of a second story blocks their view and they have vastly different opinions about what's right or wrong. Jane and hubby Aaron (Simon McBurney) each head their own creative business, but she has an anger-management problem and he might be in denial that he's gay (the running gag is that men come onto him wherever the fashion conscious cutie goes). Franny and hubby Matt (Greg Germann) are the richest, have a great sex life and seem the most stable and happiest, as the stay-at-home wifey is shown to have it all---with all the domestic help she needs, an unlimited expense account, two seemingly perfect children and a nice guy hubby whose only fault is he still smokes. 

The episodic comedy of manners is filled with charm, sensitivity and insightful observations about the things money can do to make one feel they have worth in the world. The female characters all have obvious problems despite having money (even the poor one is still a person of privilege). Christine, the director's alter ego, is accident-prone because she can't see what's right in front of her and keeps bumping into things. Jane doesn't wash her hair which indicates she's given up on life and settled for less than the whole deal, reconciled that death will take away all her efforts. Olivia is disorganized but takes a job cleaning up other people's messes rather than her own, and easily gets taken advantage of by men (she has an unbelievable relationship with a boorish personal trainer (Scott Caan) that seemed incomprehensible for even her scatterbrained doormat character to put up with). Franny, who is truly generous, can't see the evil in the world because she has created a safe haven fantasy world to live in and has so much dough that everyone caters to her so her fairy-tale life goes untarnished. 

The film seems to come to the obvious conclusion that everyone has problems but money, luck or good parental genes can clear up most of them (or, at least make things better). The fun or, for that matter, wisdom in the film is not in the bluntly drawn honest class conscientious statements, but in how well the leading actresses deliver the goods--with Aniston struggling to hold her own with the more accomplished actresses and surprisingly hanging in there rather well as the main focal point of the story.

REVIEWED ON 5/7/2006        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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