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Friends With Money

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Friends With Money

Not My Friends

Snarky, petty, self-indulgent, unappealing: those are some of the words I would use to describe the folks in Nicole Holofcener's new drama Friends With Money.The wonderful female cast--Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, and Joan Cusack--is wasted, forced to spew non-stop acidic dialogue in fancy cars, fancy houses, and fancy restaurants.
There is not a single character to like: not A-lister Jennifer Aniston, who dresses down as Olivia, the pot-smoking house maid. Aniston received plenty of attention at Sundance, where the film was the opening night selection of this year's festival; I found it difficult to separate Aniston's toilet-scrubbing, plainly attired onscreen persona from the star herself. Aniston's casting seemed more distracting than anything else.

Who else to dislike? The usually wonderful Frances McDormand telephones in a performance as Jane, a bitter fashion designer married to a clothing-obsessed man (Simon McBurney) who clearly must be gay but doesn't know it. McDormand's Jane is angry at the world. She rails against injustice: shoppers who cut lines, drivers who steal parking spaces, waiters who don't refill empty coffee mugs. Yes, of course, there are many people like this, and yes, Holofcener isn't obligated to create characters who are concerned with the real problems of the world. That said, Jane is tiresome, unsympathetic, and even worse, she refuses to wash her hair.

Catherine Keener and Joan Cusack are the two remaining friends: Christine and Franny. Neither deserve their own paragraph. They also have money and husbands. Franny has the most money, and therefore, the happiest marriage. It should be noted that a cast of four friends, their husbands, boyfriends, children and random sex partners add up, and it is difficult to keep all of the names straight. When one unhappy couple driving home from dinner gossips about another unhappy couple, I often thought: Who? What are they talking about?

Holofcener has failed to create memorable characters; hearing them bemoan their lives never becomes engaging. I do not doubt that vapid people like these exist; that does not mean they are worth watching. Like in her previous film Lovely and Amazing, Holofcener does an astute job of capturing moneyed, educated Americans getting sucked into a dangerous vacuum of self-absorption; Lovely and Amazing was dedicated to the obsession with beauty, this is about the preoccupation with wealth.

Nobody in Friends With Money has any real financial trouble, not even Olivia, who can up and quit when she feels like it--unlike the Latina woman who cleans Franny's house. When the credits roll, the friends in Friends With Money still have their money. Their lives have not significantly changed--except that Jane, fortunately, finally, does wash her hair.

P.S. The place of money in our day-to-day lives is a topic well worth exploring. Philippe Le Guay's 2004 ensemble drama The Cost of Living asks some of the same questions as Friends with Money, but does a far superior job. Three years later, the movie continues to come to mind when friends argue over who should pay for dinner. The film, which premiered at Lincoln Center's Rendez-Vous with French Film Festival, never received distribtion in the U.S.

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