Friends With Money
Friends with Money is an ensemble piece with a deceiving title. The movie is set in Los Angeles, where three girlfriends feel ashamed about being well-off while their only unmarried friend, Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), charges people $65 a pop to clean their pads, but Olivia’s friends are just as major players in this movie as she is. As in her previous indie hits Walking and Talking and Lovely and Amazing, director Nicole Holofcener’s latest is about the stalled lives of women. And it delivers in large part because of her knack for getting powerhouses like Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, and Aniston to deliver her snappy dialogue.
Today’s depressed housekeeper Olivia is a formerly depressed teacher at a posh Santa Monica school. When the students started throwing quarters at her because of the dumpy car she drove, she opted for scrubbing toilets. “She’s unmarried, a pothead, and a maid,” complains Jane (McDormand). Aniston’s dour-faced performance reminds again that she can act, but it’s basically the same role she played in The Good Girl.
Christine (Holofcener veteran Keener) is one-half of a screenwriting couple, frustrated with hubby David’s (Jason Isaacs) typically male logic about everything. She demands sentiment, but without it her marriage is crumbling, much to her friends’ consternation.
Born-rich Franny (Joan Cusack) is happily married to a husband who insists on spoiling their children; she’s also the only female character in the ensemble that seems completely irrelevant, other than to serve as the relationship ideal for the other more miserable characters to exist in the shadow of. Compared to the complexity her friends suffer from, she’s the movie’s weakest link.
If there’s a heart to the movie, though, it’s middle-aged fashion designer Jane. McDormand delivers a performance as rich and complicated as her Laurel Canyon Jane, another role that ballasts an oft-disorganized movie that easily could have spiraled out of control otherwise. Happily married like Franny—but to an effeminate clotheshorse all her friends think is gay—Jane is staring down the dwindling days of her life, and the despair of it all has taken the fun out of breathing.
Together, these four lives interconnect despite the disconnectedness of almost every scene. The lack of a strong narrative leaves the movie feeling like a collection of shorts bound by common characters. By the end, the payoff is as subtle as a short story’s—which is pretty damn underwhelming considering the characters offered up, the laughs shared, and the promises made by Holofcener’s direction.