“Friends With Money” – A Review

Screened March 26, 2006

Florida Film Festival

Back in 2002, when Jennifer Aniston was married to Brad Pitt and co-starring in the hugely successful “Friends,’ she played the title role in director Miguel Arteta’s independent film “The Good Girl.” Her portrayal of a drab, depressed store clerk trapped in an unhappy marriage to a pot-bellied house painter was so moving that she received a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award.

At the time, Arteta told me in an interview that “Jennifer is a naturally happy person and had to learn how to reflect the appearance of someone who is severely depressed. She wore ankle and wrist weights for weeks before filming in order to help her slump over.”

I’m guessing that Aniston doesn’t need the weights anymore to be convincing.

In “Friends With Money,” writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s third feature film, Aniston plays another drab, depressed character, only this time she’s the friend without a husband, without a promising future, and (as the title implies) without any money. The film is promoted as an ensemble piece which includes Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, and Joan Cusack as three long-time friends of Olivia (Aniston’s downtrodden teacher now working as a maid). However, “Friends With Money” begins with Olivia’s story, centers around developments in her personal life, and ends with a possibility (rather than a promise) for her future.

As we watch Olivia beg, borrow, and steal to get by — including stealing another woman’s husband for a few romantic encounters — her wealthy friends struggle with their own problems. Ensemble or not, clearly the sticky-fingered Olivia (i.e., Aniston) steals the show, as well.

Christine (Keener) realizes that she and her husband — screenwriting collaborators — don’t communicate anymore. Confronted by her own mortality and a strikingly effeminate husband, fashion designer Jane (McDormand) fears that she’s losing control. On the other hand, Frannie (Cusack) is happily married and independently wealthy, and has no significant worries except the basic inconveniences of daily existence.

The men in their lives, played by Simon McBurney, Jason Isaacs, Scott Caan, Greg Germann, and Bob Stephenson, have their own intricate stories to tell.

We get to view these tangled relationships from every angle, and are privy to conversations between the four women, between two of the women gossiping about the others, between the individual couples, between friends and clients, between friends and lovers (or past/potential lovers), between the men, and various combinations of all of the above. It may be complicated keeping track, but it’s certainly lots of fun.

Honestly written and sensitively portrayed, this Sony Pictures Classics Release reveals the comedy and drama of modern couples in Los Angeles trying to work things out, but “Friends With Money” shares the triumphs and frustrations of middle-aged women everywhere as they come to terms with their social, personal, familial, and sexual status in life.

Copyright 2006 Leslie Halpern

Central Florida entertainment writer Leslie Halpern is the author of more than 1,600 articles in trade and consumer magazines. She wrote the books “Reel Romance. The Lovers’ Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies” (Taylor Trade Publishing), which reviews date movies for couples and suggests romantic ideas inspired by these films, and “Dreams on Film: The Cinematic Struggle Between Art and Science” (McFarland & Company), an analysis of representations of sleeping and dreaming in the movies. Both books are available at Amazon.com. Visit her website at: http://home.roadrunner.com/~lesliehalpern

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