FRIENDS WITH MONEY
Director/Screenwriter: Nicole Holofcener
Executive Producers: Ted Hope, Anne Carey, Ray Angelic
Producer: Anthony Bregman
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Jason Isaacs
U.S.A., 2005, 88 min.
SUNDANCE 2006 Opening Night Film
*Friends With Money portrays a world we may think we know all too well: the liberal, professional, sophisticated lives of women and their husbands on the west side of Los Angeles. But director Nicole Holofcener's depiction is so authentic and detailed, so exact and honest, that it's like seeing something familiar for the first time. And the film is constructed with a discerning eye and a tone that's both loving and funny, its characters are fully fleshed out by a great ensemble cast, and it boasts a witty, carefully crafted script.
Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, and Catherine Keener are a quartet of lifelong friends; three of them have achieved a certain level of success and financial comfort and now enjoy lives that focus around their husbands and offspring, friends, and various social activities. Olivia (Aniston), however, faces a different dilemma: because she recently quit her job and is cleaning houses in the interim, she is unclear about her future and even the state of her longtime friendships. As all their worlds evolve and then fracture, their comfortable milieu may be facing real changes.
Like a great Russian playwright, Holofcener flawlessly addresses the social and the personal, class and gender, and the frustrating aspects of people's day-to-day lifestyles, especially the uniqueness of each couple's relationship. Simply put, this is marvelous filmmaking and a pleasure to watch. Friends With Money's voices and vision will remain with us long after the film ends.
*Summary by Geoffrey Gilmore, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
This was the opening night film of the festival, and probably the film with biggest profile coming in to Sundance. However, I thought it was the most disappointing as well. Really, with such a high-profile cast, and a great director who is experienced at creating intimate ensemble dramas, this should have come off much better than it did. Firends With Money was unenthusiastically received by the Sundance audience mostly because of the extremely abrupt ending. The relationships in the film were very well set up, investing the viewer in all the problems that existed between the couples, then the film ended, providing a half-hearted wrap-up for the Aniston relationship, but not providing any kind of closure for the McDormand, Cusack, or Keener relationships. Granted, this may have been the point of the director, to demonstrate that relationships are never resolved, but I just felt cheated that there was no resolution. The movie was just under 90 minutes, and could easily have afforded to be a bit longer.
As I said, the establishment of the relationships, especially in the case of the McDormand and Keener pairings, is fantastic. Frances McDormand portrays a woman in her mid-forties, going through some kind of mid-life crisis, where she no longer feels in control, or attractive to her husband who her friends all believe is gay. Her explosions at her friends and at strangers who annoy her are realistic and cutting, and she really establishes a character we can sympathize with. Her situation never finds closure and you feel that you know her enough by the end of the film, that you feel she DESERVES some kind of closure, be it positive or negative.
The theme that seems to be developing in the film is about the fallibility of relationships that seem to be perfect on the outside. However, as the relationships in the film starts to crumble and reveal their unhappy cores, the Joan Cusack coupling never reveals any fault. They are rich, happy, and though their situation suggests that they may not be as happy as they demonstrate, the film never makes it clear that the Cusack relationship is anything but perfect. Why have one unrealistic pairing in the film among three realistic portrayals? On a positive note, the dialogue scenes, when all the couples are in the same scene, are sharp and realistic. There is wonderful and poignant over-lapping narrative that reveals the intentions and feelings of these women without overstating their emotional predicaments. Its rare case when one wishes a film could be longer, but this one really could be another half-hour and be better off for it.