Friends with Money
directed by Nicole Holofcener
(Sony, 2006)

I'll be honest -- I only watched this film because Jennifer Aniston is in it. Not surprisingly, I had a hard time relating to the film and figuring out how I felt about it. Early on, I was asking just how many characters are in this movie, as every scene seemed to throw more and more of them at me. About halfway through, I was questioning my decision to ever introduce myself to these Friends with Money (most of these characters can really be annoying).

Then, somewhere between this point and the end -- despite the fact that the film doesn't seem to have much of a point to it -- I ended up liking it. I'm still not sure why. If the film does have any point at all, it would have to be the fact that money does not buy happiness. Only a couple of these characters are the least bit happy or content.

So we have this group of friends, all of whom are married and wealthy except for Olivia (Aniston). We don't know when the friendship began, but the fact that the other women are significantly older than Olivia seems a little strange to me. Franny (Joan Cusack) and Matt (Greg Germann) are normal and happy, Christine (Catherine Keener) and her husband are normal and unhappy, and Jane (Frances McDormand) and Aaron (Simon McBurney) are neither normal nor happy -- actually, Aaron's happy but Jane is unhappy enough for the both of them. She's also borderline insane, as whatever midlife crisis she's going through compels her to go days and days and days without washing her hair and to fly off the handle at any given moment, spewing bitterness at all the jerks and idiots in the world.

Olivia has problems of her own; it's not that she's a maid, it's the fact that she is still hung up on this rascal of a married man who dumped her, has no direction in life, enjoys smoking pot and is basically just floundering. She's not helpless by any means, but she is a real mess. Her friends, naturally enough, think she needs a man.

As Friends with Money approached the final turn and headed for home, I consciously wondered where this story was going -- the answer, of course, is nowhere. There is no true sense of conclusion to any of the film's sub-plots. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it represents a definite vision on the part of the director. One could also say it makes sense because all we have really done is step into these characters' lives for a brief time. We see it all, though -- their doubts, their fears, their discontentment and anger, everything. Jane tends to steal the show with her increasingly grungy appearance and hissy fits, but all of these characters and their many varied problems will doubtlessly strike a chord with viewers. Christine's marital problems are especially relevant to many couples today, and I'm sure I'm not the only person in the world who can somewhat identify with Olivia's general malaise and lack of purpose.

I really haven't done a good job describing this movie, partly because Friends with Money just doesn't lend itself to easy explanation. We are talking about a modern, open-ended type of filmmaking here, and everyone will react differently to what they see on the screen. Some will hate it, some will relate to it particularly well and some may just go away with a sheepish look on their faces. I think I managed to do a little bit of all three.

review by
Daniel Jolley

23 October 2010

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