One of the sweet moments in "Please Give," written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, is the first date of Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Eugene (Thomas Ian Nicholas), on which they drive into the countryside to view the autumn leaves -- accompanied by both of their grandmothers.
One of the film's most comically nasty moments occurs in the same scene: Rebecca's grandma, Andra (Ann Guilbert), out of sheer contrariness, turns her head away from the spectacular view.
"Please Give" manages to combine tenderness and acerbity like that, often in the same character. Kate (Catherine Keener, often the star of Holofcener's films) is the owner of a trendy New York mid-century modern furniture shop, for which she buys furniture and accessories at estate sales. "We buy from the children of dead people," says her husband, Alex, played by Oliver Platt.
She pays a pittance and resells the pieces for major bucks, while being racked with guilt about all the homeless and disadvantaged people out on the streets. As often as not, though, her attempts at charity misfire. The "homeless" black man lingering on the sidewalk is, in fact, waiting for a restaurant table; the handicapped children at a center where she might volunteer make her cry.
Kate and Alex have bought the pre-war apartment next to theirs, but can't take possession and merge it with theirs until its current tenant, bitchy 91-year-old Andra, dies. Andra is looked after by her two granddaughters: Rebecca, a mammogram tech (the film's opening scene is of mammograms being administered, one after another); and Mary (Amanda Peet), as bitchy as her grandma. Equally selfish and nasty is Kate and Alex's teenaged daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele). Ill temper spans the generations.
And yet "Please Give" is not a mean-spirited movie. The characters, several of them at least, battle with their selfishness. Some, like Rebecca, her suitor Eugene, and his grandmother (Lois Smith), are downright lovable. And the writing is superb: witty, at times seemingly improvised, never static.
"Please Give" is a very New York movie, but its New York is far from Woody Allen's gilded view in such films as "Annie Hall" and "Hannah and her Sisters." This is the real New York, warts and all.