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Friends a smart, bold film

Laura Miller | Friday, September 1, 2006

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s “Friends with Money” is absolutely shocking.

Joan Cusack (Franny), Frances McDormand (Jane), Jennifer Aniston (Olivia) and Catherine Keener (Christine) play four best friends who are struggling in the adjustment to middle age. Although it is advertised as a comedy, it most assuredly is not. It is funny, but it rises above this label (evidenced by it opening the Sundance Film Festival this year) and is also quite possibly one of the most well-written and true-to-life movies to come out this year.

The best thing about the script is that it allows the actors and actresses to be distinctly human. There is no illusion of beauty. They look frumpy in the morning, they eat ice cream for breakfast and they bicker. At first, it feels like a film that might take 88 minutes to go absolutely nowhere, but Holofcener gently ties the film together in subtle outtakes of the characters talking about each other. It is these clips of the more intimate discussions that tastefully integrate the themes of the movie without forcing any specific message upon the viewer. Holofcener is wise in leaving issues open-ended, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions and relate to the characters in their own unique way.

Overall, the acting was phenomenal, but it is clear that Aniston is not as comfortable out of the comedic setting as her costars. This is the first film in which Aniston is seen departing from her traditional role – and while it is not a seamless transition, her acting is promising at the very least.

Cusack nails her wealthy soccer-mom persona and McDormand’s picture of Jane going through menopause is so perfectly scary that it leaves the audience praying that their mothers (or themselves) are never that bad.

Keener also does a fantastic job showing a woman struggling with her marriage without going too far. These depictions are what make this movie great. It is real and the problems encountered are real problems. Money. Friends. Divorce. There is no spastic soap opera plot with the ex-wife’s husband’s child getting pregnant, but rather, a thoughtful outlining of everyday problems and event in the life of the middle aged – getting burnt on the stove, noticing wrinkles, etc.

The film also translated well to DVD, in part because of the simplicity of the cinematography and a larger emphasis on dialogue. The extras are sparse, but actually worth watching. Deleted scenes or music videos are absent, replaced with actor and director interviews. If the movie didn’t make the viewer see these actors and actresses as real people, the extras certainly do. They show crew at the Sundance Film Festival clad in jeans and casual shirts, hair in ponytails and minimal makeup. These women looked their parts. They were passionate in their interviews, describing the script in terms of an emotional process – not a “this movie was fun to make” response. It was refreshing to see some big Hollywood names looking and feeling so comfortable in their own skins.

Over the past years, few good movies about women’s issues have been released. This movie achieves what films like “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and shows like “Desperate Housewives” have miserably failed to achieve – a woman’s perspective on family life that is not anti-male. If nothing else, this movie is educational.