The best film from Sundance this year so far? Nicole Holofcener’s “Please Give.” Unfortunately for headlines, it’s already taken by Sony Pictures Classics.
“Please Give,” if SPC handles it right, is bigger than it looks. A beautifully wrought serio-comedy, it stars Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt as a New York couple with too much money and a few problems even they don’t completely understand. Sarah Steele, of “Spanglish” fame, is lovely as their daughter. Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet play an unsual pair of sisters who are intertwined in the couple’s lives through an unusual circumstance: Keener and Platt have bought their 91-year-old grandmother’s apartment–adjacent to theirs– and are waiting for her to die.
The grandmother is played with expert comic timing by veteran’Ann Morgan Guilbert, who is only 82 and is blissfully remembered as Millie Helper, Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke’s neighbor in New Rochelle on the “Dick Van Dyke’Show.” She’s also played both Fran Drescher and Jerry Seinfeld’s grandmothers on TV.
Also featured is the great theatre and movie actress Lois Smith as a patient of Hall’s and the grandmother of her prospective boyfriend (Thomas Ian Nicholas.)
Holofcener has had three films at Sundance previously, the most recent was “Friends with Money” in 2006. None of them worked this well or were so completely formed. “Please Give” is really like a great, classic Woody Allen a la “Alice” or “Manhattan.” All the pieces fit together, and the characters are so well defined that each functions to deliver a satisfying outcome. Keener and Platt are ridiculously good.
The other interesting premieres from Friday included Joseph Gordon Levitt and Rainn Wilson in “Hesher,” a lively punk comedy about a semi-psychopath drifter who terrorizes yet helps a grieving family. The film is a hard swallow for older types, but should play with much success to a young (18-40) audience. The great Piper Laurie, who turned 78 yesterday, is a welcome surprise as Wilson’s mom. The real star of the’film is a’12-year-old named Devin Brochu, who seems indestructible as lots of bad things happen to him. Natalie Portman has a nice turn as a cashier who gets involved with this odd bunch.
And Josh Radnor from “How I Met Your Mother” has directed and written his first feature, called “HappyThankYouMorePlease.” He’s in every frame of the comedy, and you can tell he was completely earnest about it. The best performance comes from Malin Ackerman as his friend who’s suffering from alopecia. Not all of of “happy” makes sense, but it’s a genial story that shows Radnor has a lot of promise. The second characters, played by Zoe Kazan and Pablo Schreiber, actually turn out to be the most engaging.
More later on the parties and the show–there’s lots of each–and the slushing around Park City…