It’s hard to be in L.A. – to live, to visit, to see in movies – and not think that being jaw-droppingly wealthy is the only way to live life. People drive tricked-out cars worth as much as the (astronomical) average housing price and think nothing of tossing away a few hundred on a pair of ripped jeans because they hug the butt just so. This casual relationship with opulence is the setting for Friends with Money, writer-director Nicole Holofcener
’s (Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing) new comedy about how tough the world can be for the haves and the have-mores.
Not some “money doesn’t solve everything” morality play – if anything, money solves a heck of a lot here – we instead get a more general look at the dissatisfaction and ennui striking women of a certain age, regardless of whether they are rich or not. (But not, apparently, if they are really, really rich – then they get to be happy.) It’s familiar ground for Holofcener, whose semi-feminist films always follow a group of women trying to work out a sense of identity at a particular stage of life. Article continues below
So what do these women, walking illustrations of “having it all,” have to complain about? Well, for Christine (Catherine Keener
, a Holocener mainstay), the problem is her crumbling marriage to an unsympathetic and superior screenwriting partner/husband. Jane (Frances McDormand
) is a chichi clothing designer in a life crisis that who quits washing her hair and is sent into fits of apoplectic rage by everyday aggravations in traffic and customer service. It’s very baffling to her sweet, sympathetic, and very probably straight husband. Only Franny (Joan Cusack
), the wealthiest of the bunch, seems to have a functioning marriage and a deeply satisfying life as a stay-at-home-mom (with full time help, of course – no need to be primitive).
And then there is Olivia (Jennifer Aniston
); poor, unmarried, childless, house cleaner Olivia. She is likely supposed to be the stunted one, but… it’s still Jennifer Aniston; she’s hardly a plebe. Olivia has taken to drifting through life, smoking a lot of pot, obsessively stalking a past (married) lover, and letting her current guy degrade mistreat her – and pay for the privilege. The film’s title (and casting) suggest that Olivia is meant to be the focus, but her melancholic foundering isn’t really given a priority in screen time. It’s a good thing, too, considering her passivity doesn’t always make her the most interesting.
Friends offers little indication how these four women became close, with Olivia so much younger and leading an utterly different life. Franny comments that she isn’t certain whether they still would be friends if they met now; but for the other two, there is the feeling they keep Olivia around to maintain a sense of superiority – their lives may be disintegrating, but at least they aren’t maids. Olivia clearly has a tendency towards masochism, but at least her friendships offer something to aspire to.
That is the crux of the appeal – and potentially off-putting nature – of Holofcener’s work: Her women are complicated, troubled, and often inscrutable. They are not always likeable, or fleshed out to minute details, and they rarely experience grand transformations or realizations. But they are always relatable – who hasn’t wanted to lash out when someone brazenly cuts in line and totally gets away with it? – and Holofcener writes them brilliantly acerbic and sharp, so her script stays jaunty and blithe (lean, too, at under 90 minutes).
It might have no real resolutions to speak of, and male characters are shallowly drawn and peripheral at best, but Friends with Money is the kind of chick flick that offers genuine accessibility instead of rah-rah sisterhood empowerment. And if still working on figuring out who you are when you’re already supposed to be a grown up offers no kinship, well, we’ve all sat awake at night, pondering where to donate that extra two mil so it doesn’t burn us at tax time.