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Friends With Money
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Friends with Money is directed by Nicole Holofcener, who also directed Lovely and Amazing in 2002. This is a thoughtful film that you'll want to see. It doesn't traumatize its audience, doesn't bore us (too much), doesn't make everything seem way too fantastic to be real, and yet doesn't resemble real life enough to make you wonder why you're at the movies at all. It's a story without an actual beginning or end: you sort of drop in on the middle of these people's lives, and when the movie's over, you slip out again. The story's about three couples and a single-and maybe much younger-woman, Olivia (played by Jennifer Aniston). The women are Catherine Keener (Christine), Frances McDormand (Jane), and Joan Cusak (Franny), each of them delivering fine performances and showcasing the vibrancy and sexiness of complex, adult women (they are supposed to be in their forties). The husbands, with the exception of Jane's (Aaron played by stage actor Simon McBurney), are mostly muted, thus further offsetting the women's acting in the film.

Olivia, who used to be a teacher, quit and is now cleaning houses for a living and cruising the cosmetics section of Bloomingdale's for free samples. Christine and her husband are building an addition to their house in an effort to produce enough elbow room so they'll stop fighting (it doesn't work); Jane, a dress designer, is stuck in an early midlife crisis while her adoring and devoted husband, Aaron, attends scrupulously to his wardrobe and unwittingly attracts swarms of men with his gorgeous body and fey ways. Franny doesn't work at all; she and her husband Matt (played by Allie McBeal's Greg Germann in a very similar role) are the richest of the lot, and seemingly unperturbed by life's depressing little disturbances. It's hard to figure out why the three wives are friends with Olivia, and the movie never tells us how they met, only that, were they to meet today, their social circles would not overlap.

Over the course of the film, we learn about these people, see the rough spots and unhappinesses in their lives, and also, surprisingly, come to understand some of the bonds that hold them together. Not all that much happens: we watch Olivia hook up with yet another loser, who comes with her on her housecleaning gigs, and then we watch her as she learns to stand up for her own interests, though we never quite get what the turning point is supposed to be. We also tensely watch Aaron, whom everyone thinks is gay, as he ventures toward but never discovers the peculiarities-or not-of his proclivities. We see Christine and her husband fall apart as their joint scriptwriting devolves more and more into argument, their characters acting out their real life personality conflicts and mutual lack of understanding in painfully explicit ways.

I think the major complaint I have is that Olivia in this film is quirky, perverse, and somehow suffering from something, but we learn nothing about the reasons. She serves, if anything, as a foil for lending some humanity and depth to the others who, without her, would be wealthy, shallow Los Angelinos as far as I am concerned. Indeed, the film maker has more affection for them than I did. That's fair, except why do we have to learn that some rich people have troubles too (though it is suggested that if you are rich enough, you may not have any troubles at all)? Friends with Money belongs to the category of American movies that retreats from the state of the world to focus on the minutiae of so-called ordinary lives. At least this one doesn't pretend it's not about the privileged. Well acted, well written, and quietly absorbing, Friends with Money is short, sweet, and worth watching.

Looking for trouble at the movies for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.