Dough Girls

Friends with Money

Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, and Frances McDormand star in a film written and directed by Nicole Holofcener.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

Considering Jennifer Aniston’s puzzling super-celebrity status, perhaps it’s worth noting that this movie is not TV’s Friends with money, though that cast certainly pulled down gobs of the stuff. Nay; this Friends is the next film by Nicole Holofcener of Lovely and Amazing and Walking and Talking fame. A clarifying fact that will no doubt help you predict that Friends with Money is probably a Catherine Keener vehicle (check) in which a small clique of contemporary Angelenos rehearse the bittersweet to hilarious foibles of coming to terms with the rules of life’s rich game (double check). Add to that a slew of subtexts nicely rendered, though.

Aniston plays Olivia, the one unmarried, unmonied member of a Westside cohort. She’s left a teaching post, and now cleans houses and smokes pot for a living. Her friends are either born rich (Joan Cusack), achieved wealth (Frances McDormand), or sold a screenplay (Keener). In an early scene, Cusack asks to which charity she should donate two million simoleans, and one of the husbands wonders why not give it to Olivia? Later, one wonders a lot, why not? (Note to my wealthy friends: Why not?) It’s a powerful depiction of love’s weak-force hold on money told in a simple, though ultimately quasi-fairytale fashion.

McDormand rules the pack. Playing a successful fashion designer with a nice marriage and child, she’s gradually revealed to be a soft-core crank. Complaining bitterly over daily slights — being cut off for a parking space, not getting good service in a high-priced eatery — she also wonders aloud whether mere survival was The Point. She’s depressed, but keenly dialed into making the world a nicer place, too. All the women are nuts but perceptively so.

It’s a nice, engaging film. Clichés bend to unexpected graceful turns. With this powerful cast of women, it’s like extra credit that the men turn in such good performances, too, particularly Simon McBurney as McDormand’s (maybe gay or maybe not) hubbie. It’s not going to make poverty or pot smoking seem preferable to wealth, but this Friends does build a case for our universal access to laughter and to tears.

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