The One About Hollywood Friends

Washington City Paper | April 21, 2006
Friends With Money leaves no unpleasantry unturned. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener, who also made 1996’s Walking and Talking and 2001’s Lovely and Amazing, continues to toy with dysfunction here, portraying three wealthy married couples and their poor single friend. Holofcener’s messages are realistically mixed: If money doesn’t buy happiness, living paycheck to paycheck doesn’t, either. And dating may be hell, but as for long-term companionship, well, there’s a reason the divorce rate is so high.

The film opens on Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), a former teacher who’s now a maid because she doesn’t know what else to do. She’s not above shuffling through clients’ drawers—or even using a stranger’s vibrator—and she carries a torch for a now-married ex, constantly calling his house and hanging up like a high schooler. Olivia is also, according to her friends, a pothead—and she never bothers to work out. But when it comes time to set her up, as her meddling friend Franny (Joan Cusack) tries to do, Olivia is sooo great!

Perhaps Franny realizes that even if Olivia isn’t a model citizen, she’s no more screwed up than the rest of them. The friends are first shown together at a dinner, where couples Christine and David (Catherine Keener and Jason Isaacs) and Jane and Aaron (Frances McDormand and Simon McBurney) bicker among themselves. Franny, wife of Matt (Greg Germann), announces that they’re donating $2 million to their daughter’s school, and the immediately disgusted Jane suggests that Franny also donate some dough to Olivia, who’s naturally mortified. When Aaron leaves the table after mentioning that there’s a designer-sample sale the next day, Christine says, “He’s so gay.”

We then follow the friends as they gossip about one another and deal with their issues at home. Christine and David are screenwriting partners who clash while working and are passive-aggressive toward each other the rest of the time. Olivia, of course, is the most sympathetic one, alternating, as Aniston adroitly shows, between self-flagellation and can’t-help-it-ness regarding her work and sorry love life. McDormand is given the showiest role as the constantly furious Jane, a typical road-rager and service-complainer whose behavior goes from funny to disturbingly out of control. (Effeminate Aaron, meanwhile, not only has his inner circle questioning his sexuality but also gets hit on by guys.)

As in her previous movies, Holofcener proves to be a most attentive observer of human behavior, relationships in particular. (Though the focus, as always, is on the women.) No one’s problems are overwhelming here; instead, they’re small, ever-mounting conflicts that can sneakily add up to big-time unhappiness. Nothing’s tidied up by the end: It’s suggested that some issues are going to be resolved happily, some will end in sorrow, and some will remain as they are. At a mere 88 minutes, Friends With Money comes to an abrupt nonconclusion. But in a film about everyday trials, open-endedness is more realistic than problematic.

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