Eric and I saw Friends with Money when it first came out in 2006. (We still lived in Chicago back then!) I remember being cruelly disappointed by the ending in the theater, and I decided to watch it again to decide for sure.
Nicole Holofcener, the writer/director, makes wonderful movies about women who have everything, yet still feel vaguely dissatisfied. Her characters are subtle, funny, touching, real and a little pathetic. Her films, which also include Walking & Talking, Lovely and Amazing
and Please Give, don't offer much in the way of plot- but they do offer touching insight into the lives of modern American women.
Friends With Money interweaves the lives of four friends. Three are wealthy and successful, one is a burnt out ex-teacher, and all are struggling through the long march of middle age and the private misery they have created for themselves.
Christine (Catherine Keener) is a screenwriter and one half of a husband and wife writing team. As they read through the dialog of their latest endeavor, we see that they have given up even a facade of civility in their marriage and working relationship. Instead, they are distracting themselves by building a giant addition to the roof of their home that will give them an ocean view- never mind about the neighbors.
Jane (Francis McDormand) is a successful fashion designer whose husband everyone assumes to be gay. That he runs a hair care company and loves shopping for cashmere at sample sales isn't helping matters. Jane is seething with a midlife crisis in full swing and is filled with rage at the smallest slights. She comes unglued when another mom fails to acknowledge a play date their sons had and flies off the handle in a very memorable scene at Old Navy.
Franny (Joan Cusak) is a multi-millionaire who spends her days home making (with the benefit of a full time staff) gossiping about her friends and attending fancy charitable events. Her husband seems to enjoy being a kept man and relishes spending her money on their kids.
Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) is the only one without means. She recently quit her job at a fancy private high school where the students drove nicer cars than she did and has resorted to cleaning houses, smoking lots of pot, stalking a married ex-boyfriend and wallowing in entitled and destructive self pity.
So lets just say, they each have their issues.
The part of this film that stuck with me across all these years is Jane, who, in her frustration at being undeniably middle aged at last, has given up washing her hair. She tells her husband, "Remember when we first met? All the shampoo I had? I was obsessed! It was like each bottle was a new chance... A new chance to be pretty. And then I met you, and I found out they all have the same sh*t in 'em."
To me, that is the heart of the whole film. Everyone has the same sh*t to deal with; themselves. Our culture makes it easy to put off. You can distract yourself with consuming for an entire lifetime. But the longer you put it off, the harder it gets to avoid the heart of the matter (you are going to die!) and the more disgusted with yourself you become.
Each of these women is circling around that problem. And so the ending comes without a perfect resolution. Interestingly, the conclusion for Olivia bothered me much less now that I am five years older. This time around I knew that her character getting rich wasn't meant to be a happy ending.
John Lennon said "Everyone knows that money doesn't buy happiness, but everyone wants to find out for themselves." I am sure Olivia got a chance to learn that lesson herself.
Do you have a favorite writer or director whose movies always seem to speak to you? (Another of my favorites is John Patrick Shanley.) What is it about their world view that appeals to you?