Friday, 8 September 2006

Friends With Money (2006)

Jennifer Aniston wears a French maid outfit in this movie. Watch it now!

You probably wouldn’t notice at first, but a decade or more after graduation, it finally hits you: some classmates whom you continue to meet up every so often, the ones you count amongst your closest friends, have been dealt a somewhat different hand in life – a miserable hand in life, if I might say so. You know these as the ones who are not as rich as everyone else at the table during the monthly dinners, the ones in cheap mass-produced clothing. The ones who, for reasons unknown, continued to end up in low-paying, almost dead-end jobs, and unmarried to boot, even though they’re way past their 20s. You smile genially and try your best not to remind them too much during lunch that you are ridiculously rich, even though the topic of discussion for lunch today is the charity gala that you hope everyone is going next month. They’ve been your best friend for so long now, a small matter like money and rich spouses wouldn’t come between the gang. But still. You wonder, perhaps, if that poor friend just prefers the simple lifestyle, freelancing, and singlehood instead of the well-beaten route. Maybe you should feel happy for her instead of worrying. But still, you ask in concerned tones what they’ve been working as, and their love life. And after dinner, on the ride home, you turn to your spouse and discuss how awfully sad the marriages of your friends have turned out, and wonder if you should pay that friend to do some work at your home/office, or whether that would really spoil the friendship.

But really, did you think the dinner was that tension-free? Or that the poor classmate really felt comfortable sitting next to people in $1,000 outfits? That the classmate didn’t feel a tinge of ressentiment during the discussion about your plans for a third storey expansion of the bungalow? And yet all of you meet ritually every month, people who would never otherwise know each other, and probably won’t become acquainted at all had you just met in the street now, because of that precious time in college, when everyone was a slacker and a pothead anyway.

I know many people with friends like that. They don’t know whether to pity their friends for being poor or themselves, for having no more security and happiness than those financially challenged friends. Friends With Money is a film about all these depressing subjects, but without the angsty feel one expects. The brilliance of this ensemble film lies in director Nicole Holofcener’s decision to play it as a social comedy, and to avoid any chick flick navel gazing, emoting, and "no one knows the depth of my sorrows!" melodrama. Yes, people make bad decisions and suffer from their decisions in this film, but Nicole Holofcener invites you to laugh with them nonetheless.

Impossible? But there it is, since Holofcener has done it again, as with her previous uncomfortable, unnerving comedies Lovely & Amazing, and Walking and Talking. The special, almost literary way the 4 women characters and their husbands weave in and out of the narrative is what sets her latest film out as something special. The literary quality continues with the continual unpeeling of each character to reveal an essence that tends to be wildly out of touch with their appearance. At the same time, the unveiling always comes as a punchline to a gag rather than a melodramatic second-act closer. This sunshiney delivery helps Friends With Money dodge the chick flick label and propel it towards the direction of hypermodern indie comedy, where all the characters end up in worse situations than they began with, yet becoming more comic the worse their situations get.

This is the first film where Jennifer Aniston is willing to ditch her picture perfect American princess image, and consequently her first decent film after a long line of duds (you may recall the rotten Break-up which was showing here barely a month ago). Her entire ensemble of co-stars have turned in a high level of performance that went a long way to make her presence in this film credible.

The combination of Jennifer Aniston’s cuteness, her co-stars’ acting chops, the sharp, witty comedy and the keen social observation is worth more than the price of a movie ticket. That, and the fact that Jennifer Aniston appears in a (apparently Japanese anime style) French maid costume that shows off all her curves, is more than reason for you to run to the cinema to catch this movie.

First published at incinemas on 14 September 2006

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