While watching Friends with Money, I was fishing around for the filmmaker’s message, getting a little lost in the complexity of character and theme, but reassured that it would probably all cohere into a singular, interesting, nuanced point about money.
That astral conjunction never quite happened, and I didn’t know what to make of it all — was I right to enjoy the show, or was I right to be miffed that it remained a muddle?
Makes the World Go Round
R for language, some sexual content, drug use
The movie follows four friends — Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, and Jennifer Aniston. Their friendship clearly extends into the past before money defined them, because now they travel in completely different circles.
The richest of the four is Franny (Cusack), who doesn’t work and has hired help to raise her kids. But the other two are well enough off. Christine (Keener) is adding a story to her house so she and her husband can catch a glimpse of the sea from their bedroom. And Jane (McDormand), like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, cannot believe that she has to play by the same rules as the rest of the schmucks of the world. Waiters and clerks had better serve her promptly and cheerfully, and if they don’t, that’s probably the character flaw that keeps them from moving up into her class.
Aniston plays black sheep Olivia, ostensibly a pothead, though she seems pretty clear-minded. She used to teach until the cruelty of yuppie Beverly Hills teenagers got to be too much. Now she cleans peoples’ houses for a living, providing us with a view from the other side of the other three women.
West Coast Woody Allen
It’s a smart setup, if a little contrived, and writer/director Nicole Holofcenter (Lovely & Amazing) does a lot with it.
Foremost is the whole L.A. mentality. If Woody Allen presented East Coast intellectualism, Friends With Money presents West Coast snobbism. Those of us in red states in flyover country may find the cares of rich Californians silly. But there’s some voyeuristic pleasure to be had in watching them fret about non-problems like hired help, cleaning ladies, the loneliness of affluence, designer clothing, homosexuality, and the phoniness of fundraisers.
Granted, the movie touches on human universals like gossip, jealousy, and sex. But the title characters on the screen are clothing designers, screenwriters, and millionaires. Plunking down a maid among these people makes money a central issue. And the problems of people with money are ridiculous in this context.
The movie creates a tension in the audience — we naturally want to sympathize with movie protagonists, and yet we don’t want to give pity to those who already have everything they need. If that sounds at all interesting, especially when combined with some very good acting and a very good cast, then Friends with Money just might be worth a look.
Ten Minutes To Go
After 80 minutes, Friends with Money fails to create a single, satisfying chord from all the various notes. But it’s still a pleasant enough sound to earn a recommendation.
Unfortunately, the movie is 90 minutes long. And in that last 10 minutes, Holofcenter gives us a deus ex machina ending that basically undermines the whole movie. My natural instinct was to try to find a generous interpretation of this contrivance. Maybe this god from a machine was sent to test the characters like Job, rather than to offer them salvation.
But no, to think that is to allow my generosity to be taken advantage of. And that’s something I simply can’t afford.