- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

Money’s a tough, or at least tricky, topic to discuss — even among the closest of friends. But writer-director Nicole Holofcener wasn’t daunted by the issue; her “Friends With Money” presents a crisp, honest examination of the ways money plays out in adult relationships.

Like her two previous films, “Walking and Talking” and “Lovely & Amazing,” “Friends” showcases Miss Holofcener’s knack for crafting beautifully real characters. This time around, they’re brought to life by a stunning cast convincingly portraying the inevitability of growing older, the hope of growing richer and happier, and the sometimes unavoidable act of growing apart from people we love.

The “Friends” are four middle-aged, upper-middle-class white women. Three boast financial stability and families of their own, while the fourth and youngest, Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), flits about — single, directionless and essentially broke.

“Poor Olivia,” one friend says of her worse-off pal, and with one loaded word Miss Holofcener cleverly sets up the major theme: Not having money (and the prestige and power that come with it) sure is unfortunate when your friends are loaded.

When Miss Holofcener turns the cameras on Olivia’s well-heeled friends, however, we see that despite their healthy bank accounts, they’re not necessarily better off. It’s complicated.

Olivia ekes out a living as a maid, but clearly needs to spend more time cleaning house in her own life; she lets people take advantage of her, does some naughty things in clients’ homes, and is obsessed with a married man.

Olivia wants the finer things but can’t afford them, like a high-end face cream appropriately called “Resolution.” She collects free samples from all the make-up counters across town and eventually pockets a jar she finds at a client’s house. She needs Resolution — bad — but she can’t seem to get it the way everyone else does.

Her friends, conversely, employ personal trainers and drop money on designer children’s shoes. Furthest from Olivia on the moolah spectrum is Frannie (Joan Cusack), a woman who really does have it all: a great marriage with great sex, spoiled children in private school, and more money than she knows what to do with. The financial disparity between her and Olivia distorts what should be a relationship of equals into a near mother-daughter dynamic.

Jane (Frances McDormand) and Christine (Catherine Keener) fall somewhere in between. Jane designs a successful clothing line, but she’s suffering from a midlife crisis, of sorts, and is married to a man everyone thinks is homosexual.

Christine and hubby write screenplays together, but, tellingly, they’re having trouble with dialogue.

Through poignant vignettes loosely sewn together and through intimate conversations between friends and lovers, “Friends” delicately and adeptly handles issues of wealth, sexuality, aging, marriage and self-image, even managing to elicit some laughs in the process.

Miss Holofcener’s script decidedly leaves race out of the equation, confining her exploration to a very specific social subset. It works for her, keeping the lens tightly focused and allowing her to mine her subjects deeply.

In the end, “Friends” feels effortless; a lovely script with wonderful subtleties and clever wordplay made even better by outstanding performances from Miss Holofcener’s leading ladies. If only Resolution were this easy to achieve in real life.

***

TITLE: “Friends With Money”

RATING: R (Mature themes and language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener.

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sonyclassics. com/friendswithmoney/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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