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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Friends WIth Money" (2006)

Nicole Holofcener’s latest comedy-drama, “Friends With Money,” depicts a woman named Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) who lives in a constant state of financial struggle while her three married friends help her along. Many of us have been through this. At some point in life, we have all been in bad shape, but mindful that there are others out there far worse off than us, yet we almost only ever come in contact with those who are doing far better. It seems like a bad cosmic joke, but there comes a time when you just have to accept certain paths you’ve taken in life and just deal. You’ll always have friends who have more money than you, but they’re still your friends.

Olivia, for instance, cleans houses for a living. She charges $65 per house, but will calmly buckle under pressure if a client haggles her down to $50. Her friend Christine (Catherine Keener) writes screenplays with her husband David (Jason Isaacs); the outspoken Jane (Frances MacDormand) is a designer with her husband Aaron (Simon McBurney); Franny (Joan Cusack) and her husband Matt (Greg Germann) are a couple with few problems and money to spare. How did Olivia fall in with this crowd? These four women have been lifelong friends.

All of them are either nearing 40 or are in their mid-‘40s and have begun questioning their values and the true strength of their marriages. Christine and David are having their house re-modeled, but haven’t yet taken into consideration what the neighbors might think. Meanwhile, Jane finds herself being fearlessly confrontational and speaking out of turn as her husband Aaron tries to figure out her behavior (oh, and everyone suspects he’s gay). Finally, Franny and Matt seem to be the financial and emotional epicenter of the group, the one couple that has fun being with each other and has too much money to spend on their kids’ shoes.

Drifting through their lives is Olivia, the kind of character Aniston has excelled at before (2002’s The Good Girl), a woman who exists on the outside looking in and can’t figure out how people start off with so little money, but just keep getting wealthier and wealthier while she lives paycheck to paycheck, trying to squeeze every ounce of toothpaste out of the tube and collecting as many free samples of face cream as she can. The movie leads up to a ritzy charity function in which rich people must come together and donate hundreds of dollars to the poor. “Why not just take that money that you would spend on the function and just give it straight to the poor?” Olivia reasons. Because, of course, it takes money to make money.

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener has become one of the most interesting, observant and insightful filmmakers working today. She has a knack for depicting human behavior in films that are heavy on dialogue, but still using action to dictate why her characters are the way they are. She doesn’t resort to screenwriting short cuts or try to force anybody’s actions in inconceivable ways in order to squeeze out a happy ending for everyone involved. Like today’s best writers, she knows that people do not change drastically over a short period of time, something most of today’s hack screenwriters should learn after they put down their Syd Field Bible.

This is her third feature after 1997’s “Walking and Talking and 2002’s “Lovely and Amazing.” Her first film at the time didn’t make much of an impression on me, but after these past two efforts, I feel a second viewing may be in order. Holofcener and her cast have taken material that may seem pedestrian on the surface—thanks to the loose structure and the lack of flashy camerawork—and have fashioned a collection of universal stories and characters that most of us can relate to in some way. There are surprises in these films, big ones, the biggest being how close these people come to mirroring our own lives.

Yet, when we look in the mirror we don’t see the person our friends see. We see someone less secure, less driven and less beautiful. We see the cracks in our skin, the pressure we put on ourselves to achieve more and the sense of failure we feel when we don’t get that dream job. Or, maybe our friends do see it, but would rather talk about it behind our backs with their husbands or wives on the way home from the dinner party. Holofcener understands that dynamic and harsh introspection and has great sympathy and understanding of it. Personally, financially and emotionally, we’re all struggling and happy endings always seem like a thing of the past.

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