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FRIENDS WITH MONEY (article first published : 2006-11-23)

With one of my favourite television actresses, Jennifer Aniston, holding her own in one of her best big-screen performances to date alongside three of my favourite movie actresses - Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and Catherine Keener - there was little chance I was not going to like Friends with Money, a new film by writer-director Nicole Holofcener.

I was not disappointed - the independent film-maker who gave us that equally memorable ensemble piece, Lovely and Amazing, has lovingly crafted another superior comedy-drama. And one that arrives as a welcome antidote to the current abundance of commercial fodder churned out by Hollywood.

Friends With Money is a bittersweet, captivating story of love, friendship, marriage and the assorted doubts, depressions and dilemmas seven longtime pals face with middle age. It's also a movie that proves, once and for all, that . . . yeah, yeah, yeah . . . The Beatles were right: money can't, necessarily, buy you love.

The focus is on good dialogue between strong characters, beautifully portrayed, who are generally well-heeled Los Angeles citizens that give and receive shoulders to lean on as the dynamics of their relationships start to shift. All the friends are married, bar love-hungry, jilted, dope-smoking teacher-turned-maid Olivia (Aniston) whose now-severely-streamlined lifestyle provides stark contrast to that of her more materialistic buddies.

Among them is the most seemingly comfortable and content of the friends, Frannie (the ever-delightful Cusack) and Matt (Greg Germann), who are so loaded they can easily afford to donate $2million their kids' school.

Not quite in the same league but most definitely also not left wanting for much, financially, is successful couturier Jane (McDormand). However, she is the most self-absorbed of the bunch, depressed about life having no more meaning and none the wiser that her neat, British businessman husband, Aaron (Simon McBurnley) is suspected of being gay by one of their mutual pals, Christine. Played by Keener, Christine is something of a bumbling neurotic who, along with her somewhat blinkered husband David (Jason Isaacs with an American accent), is a successful screenwriter. Both, of late, have got into the habit of often criticising each other - and not connecting well emotionally.

The interplay between all these colourful characters, as well as the random men who stroll through Olivia's life (including Scott Caan, impressive as a horny and conniving personal trainer), pull the focus of a film with well-judged and well-written scenes.

The slice-of-life scenarios swing from drama to comedy and tragedy, and they build to a finale which, if abrupt - it raised tut-tuts from at least two audible patrons at a morning screening - still leaves one well satisfied. A very good film. (8/10) - Billy Suter




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