The Netflix Files: March 9, 2011

Here at The Netflix Files, we work to find the hidden gems of Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature, the films and TV series that have gone largely unnoticed by the streaming community. Last week we covered the Vegas mafia scene, so it’s only natural that we transition this week to…

The second strongest female-oriented comedy of 2010 (after The Kids Are All Right), Please Give, had shockingly little to do with romance, food or a woman named Julia. Instead, Nicole Holofcener’s film is a subtle and endearing contemplation on charity and materialism. Which probably explains why the hell no one saw it when it was in theaters.  

Holofcener, a Columbia grad, both wrote and directed the film, which was screened at multiple film festivals to wide critical acclaim. However, its perceived status as an “indie chick flick,” coupled with the lack of a standard attractive male suitor (no offense, Oliver Platt), pretty much guaranteed that it would never be seen by mass audiences. That is, until last month, when it became available on Watch Instantly.

Holofcener’s frequent collaborator Catherine Keener headlines the film. You may not recognize the name, but you’ve absolutely seen her work. Her filmography includes, among others, Being John Malkovich, Where The Wild Things Are and Capote. Her most recent credit is last year’s Cyrus (pre-screened at the 2010 Ivy Film Festival), where she played John C. Reilly’s long-suffering ex-wife. Her most notable role to us, of course, is as Trish, the owner of the eBay store in The 40 Year Old Virgin. Keener is one of the finest female actors out there today, consistently refusing cookie-cutter love interest parts in favor of multilayered characters who are not defined by gender stereotypes.

Here, Keener plays Kate, a New Yorker awaiting the death of a cantankerous elderly neighbor so she can expand her own apartment. The film primarily chronicles her struggles with negotiating the guilt behind her materialistic impulses; her valiant attempts to “give back” are remarkably transparent and, at every turn, reveal her frailness as a human being.

The scene-stealing neighbor, Andra, is played by Ann Morgan Guilbert, an 82 year-old veteran comedy actress best known for her role as the grandmother on “The Nanny” (yep, there really are 10 parts to “Yetta’s Funniest Moments” on YouTube. She’s THAT good). Andra is a bitter and ungrateful old shrew, who mostly refuses to die out of spite for Keener’s character. She is also strangely sympathetic at times — her genuine belief that her eyes and legs will get better, not worse, in her twilight years is nothing short of heartbreaking.

The film also stars Rebecca Hall (The Town), Amanda Peet (Saving Silverman) and Thomas Ian Nicholas (American Pie). It’s totally worth checking out if you’re into smart, nuanced comedies that aren’t mock blaxploitation.

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