Friends with Money
February 27, 2007
Nicole Holofcener writes some of the best, most realistic dialogue for women (and men) and how they interact with one another. This was evident with her strong debut film Walking and Talking (1996) and her work on the small screen with the episodes of Sex and the City that she directed and the short-lived NBC sitcom Leap of Faith. And this is especially apparent with her latest film Friends with Money (2006) which has so many bits of dialogue and conversations that you swear you’ve had before or, at the very least, overheard. In her previous film, Lovely and Amazing (2001), she explored family dysfunction and with this new one she also explores dysfunction among a group of friends, three of whom are married and how they view the one who is single.
Jane (McDormand) is a fashion designer going through a mid-life crisis and whose husband Aaron (McBirney) may be gay (which becomes something of a running gag as he gets hit on by a gay waiter, fashion designer, etc.). Christine (Keener) and her husband David (Isaacs) are a screenwriting team who are building a second story onto their house much to the chagrin of their neighbours. Franny (Cusack) is a rich housewife whose husband (Germann) is a snob. Olivia (Aniston) is a single ex-teacher who now works as a maid cleaning other people’s houses to make ends meet. She also does little things to cut costs like going to the same make-up counter in different department stores in order to get a decent supply of free samples of her favourite hand cream.
Feeling sorry for Olivia, Franny sets up her friend with her personal trainer Mike (Caan). On their first date, he sees an old ex-girlfriend and leaves in the middle to hang out with her! They start dating and he accompanies her on her jobs but is a selfish jerk that really doesn’t care about her. Olivia is kind of a sad character who has lost her way and is trying to find out what she wants to do with her life. She looks around and sees her best friends all married and successful and yet most of them are in dysfunctional relationships or have other personal problems of their own. As the film progresses, they get worse.
The four lead actresses are all excellent and very believable as best friends, creating distinctive characters with Jennifer Aniston proving that her performance in The Good Girl (2002) wasn’t a freak anomaly. Olivia has a definite dramatic arc with a satisfying pay-off at the end that makes you feel like everything is going to be okay with these characters but not in a phony way either. Everything is not wrapped up nice and neatly.
Holofcener’s dialogue keeps catching you off guard and does not fall into a familiar rhythm that can be predictable. It is a very peculiar screenplay. She writes men and women in a certain way. In all of her movies, a male character critiques a female character. However, in Lovely and Amazing, the men were a bit more thoughtful but in Friends with Money they act harsher with sharper edges and not as considerate of women with the exception of Aaron and one of Olivia’s clients.
There is an unspoken debate in this film as the four lead women are in various stages of their lives. Olivia is still finding her way. Jane is very successful and very comfortable with who she is but we soon find out that this is a façade. Christine is in a deeply dysfunctional relationship that is falling apart. Franny is in a nice, stable but somewhat bland relationship.
Holofcener hit the big time with Friends with Money as it features several big name actresses but with an independent cinema sensibility. It was a big hit at the last Sundance Film Festival but failed to capture a mainstream audience despite the presence of Jennifer Aniston. What probably turned people off was the more serious, dramatic elements that Holofcener examines with unflinching honesty. This film isn’t some lightweight romantic comedy but a fascinating exploration of how white, upper class suburban women live and interact with one another. They are all strong, fully-realized, three-dimensional characters.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Nicole Holofcener and producer Anthony Bregman. Holofcener mentions that she was given carte blanche to write whatever she wanted and ended up writing about herself and her friends. The powers that be liked it and gave her the money to make it. She says that the toughest part was coordinating the schedules of the four lead actresses. For example, Frances McDormand was only available for a week and so they had to shoot all over her scenes then. Holofcener mentions that Catherine Keener’s part was written for her and that she was the first actress that the filmmaker approached who, in turn, gave it to Jennifer Aniston whom she was friends with and from that point on everything else fell into place. The two commentators aren’t afraid to touch upon the fact that their movie was being made during Aniston’s highly publicized break-up with Brad Pitt and how it was a real challenge to keep the media at bay. One paparazzi even punched out the film’s boom mike operator! This is a pretty decent track that is a little jokey at times.
Also included is a “Behind-the-Scenes Featurette” with pretty standard soundbites from the cast. Aniston says that she could relate to her character because she too felt lost when she first moved to Los Angeles. McDormand says that this is her fullest character to date and was intrigued that she was going through para-menopause. Not surprisingly, the cast were drawn to the material and the chance to work with Holofcener. They also praise the screenplay and how it captured and chronicled female behaviour.
There is also footage from the rainy “Los Angeles Premiere” as we see the cast doing the red carpet thing, answering questions from the press. Once inside, Holofcener gives a brief and unmemorable introduction to the film.
Finally, there is a “Sundance Featurette” that takes a brief look at the film’s reception at the film festival with Holofcener bringing up the her four lead actresses on stage to introduce the film amid a blinding wall of camera flashes. There are also excerpts from the Q&A afterwards.