More noise than signal

Friends With Money

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Aaaaaaah, summer season counter-programming. Gots to love it. Friends With Money, the third feature film from writer / director Nicole Holofcener explodes onto our screens with a notable absence of M-16 gunfire, super-powered mutants, speedboat chases and silly Christian conspiracies, replacing them with a rather more sedate blend of mid-life crises in a drama slash rom dash com sort of fashion. Well, that’s no fun at all, is it?

Actually, scratch that. Given the standard of blockbuster fare served up this summer, or season as I believe it is now known, something that’s at least competent comes as a welcome change of pace. Nominally centred on Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), currently working as a housekeeper and generally mooching around feeling aimless and depressed, she fulfills the role of friend of the titular friends with money. Those monied folks include inexplicably frustrated fashion designer Jane (Frances McDormand) and her effeminate husband Aaron (Simon McBurney), writer Christine (Catherine Keener) and hubbie David (Jason Isaacs) who shout at each other occasionally and the exceedingly wealthy Franny (Joan Cusack) and Matt (Greg Germann), who do not. Worried about Olivia’s lack of vim, pizazz, moxy and spunk, they leap into action by occasionally talking about it. Oh, and fixing her up with Frannie’s personal trainer Mike (Scott Caan). Disastrous results and mild humour ensues.

Friends with Money isn’t really about exhilarating narrative thrill rides, indeed not all that much happens. The title implies that it’s Aniston’s character centre stage and front, but that’s never really the case. Perhaps she has more face time than the others but for the most part it’s an ensemble outing, and a good ensemble at that. There’s no weak performances here, although there are quite a few weak characters, and that’s about the only hole you can pick at with this film.

Thing is, that’s quite a big hole. There’s a subtle illusion of depth that’ll suffice for the time spent in front of it, but don’t expect any life-affecting messages to be assailing you. There’s the camp fella you’re meant to think is gay … but he isn’t! There’s the girl with no reason to be unhappy … but she is! And so on and so forth, with even the resolution of sorts to Olivia’s melancholy dropping directly from the sky, deus ex machina style.

Everyone’s got problems, sure. Few people are lucky enough to problems like these guys, however. Want to play a fun game? It’s called ‘Spot the Black Guy’, and I’ll give you a hint – he’s a waiter. On reflection, this is just about the whitest, most middle class film imaginable, almost a feminine version of High Fidelity. If you happen to be white and middle class, which I’d have to grudgingly concede I am, then there’s no great barrier to enjoying this. I’d imagine it would cut very little ice in Harlem.

Still, it’s not aimed at that market. It’s more for the Sex & the City bracket, a show that Holofcener is no stranger to having directed a few herself. Friends with Money is substantially less annoying than that TV series though, largely because Sarah Jessica Parker isn’t in it. Greg Germann was part of the Ally McBeal phenomenon, although Friends with Money is substantially less annoying than that TV series, largely because Calista Flockhart isn’t in it. Now, the things that really annoy me about those programmes [Eight pages of ranting unrelated to the film removed – Ed]

So basically what I’m saying is that even if you’re the sort of person that doesn’t like Ally McBeal and Sex & the City, which is more or less where this missile has been aimed, you’ve a fair chance of liking Friends with Money. After all, I did. Frances McDormand proves excellent value for money and Aniston substantially less risible than during the rank awful Derailed.

Friends with Money doesn’t say much about life, the human condition or the world in general, but I suppose it doesn’t need to. It’s relevance is limited to a narrow band of society, but if you’re in that band then Friends with Money is a pleasing, diverting enough outing, albeit an unfocused, meandering one filled with characters complaining about things that, in any marginally grander scheme couldn’t be complained about.

Weighing in at a slender 88 minutes, this is never in danger of outstaying its welcome and saves it from becoming too much of a middle-class whine-fest, and in fact it’s punching well above its weight. You’re likely to be far better served with this than the current crop of big budget disappointments.