Cyndi Lauper wasn’t kidding. It’s tried and true, it’s trite, it’s a major cliche: Money changes everything. Money is never easy to talk about. If you have it, you don’t see what the big deal is. If you need it, well … you want it. The older you get, the more money you need to get by, whether or not you want to admit it. That is what Nicole Holofcener’s movie Friends with Money is peripherally about. What the movie is really about is life and how money affects the way we live and experience it.
The first Nicole Holofcener movie saw was Lovely and Amazing. It was boring. There’s no way around it. But there I was, fresh off of my second first viewing of Donnie Darko and I had to see Jake Gyllenhaal in anything that he happened to be in. He was the only reason I saw the movie and he’s really all I remember about the movie. That and that Catherine Keener was the star. So, I was very happy when I found that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.
Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Jennifer Aniston and Joan Cusack star in this gorgeously understated movie as four friends in their early 40’s (at least that was the impression the movie gave, though Jennifer Aniston looks about 10 years younger than the rest of her co-stars). Three of the four of them are married and fairly wealthy, the fourth (Aniston) is an ex-teacher turned maid/pothead. She cleans houses for about $65 a pop and doesn’t do much else. Compared to a screenwriter (Keener), a dress designer (McDormand), and a wealthy stay at home mom (Cusack), she’s pretty bad off. There is a particularly great scene that punctuates just how “poor” Aniston’s character Olivia is where she goes from department store to department store collecting samples of a face cream she is fond of. In total, she gets about eight samples. It’s hilariously painful because it rings so true. How many of us girls have lusted after a face cream or serum that costs $100 for about two ounces? Sure, most of us only end up getting one sample, but how many of us wouldn’t love to collect eight for free? It speaks not only to her desire to be able to afford the finer things in life, but to her inability to find a job that would allow her to actually have the finer things.
Meanwhile, Olivia’s friends are having crises of their own. Christine (Keener) and her husband (played by the awesome Jason Issacs) are writing a screenplay together, getting an addition on their house, and have a lovely little son, but their marriage is falling apart. Jane (McDormand) seems to be having a rebellious mid-life crisis of sorts. She’s grumpy all the time and refuses to wash her hair because it will just get dirty and she’ll have to wash it again anyway. Her husband who is very supportive of her is presumed gay by almost anyone he meets (believe it or not, this is not a crisis, just a funny little part of the film). Franny (Cusack) is the happiest of all of them (and the richest).
The loveliest thing about Friends with Money is that it’s effortless. Holofcener is a writer. A real live writer. She feels these characters. They probably walked around in her head for months while she wrote the script. The dialogue seems so effortlessly spoken (this was of course largely due to the amazing work of all four female leads and the men that accompany them in each scene), you’d think that we weren’t watching people act at all, but getting a look into the lives of these four women who just happen to look like famous actresses. It was quite refreshing to watch a movie where you aren’t kept in suspense and where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s not to say there were any “Twists(!)” or “Shocks(!)” that were thrown in to keep us guessing. We were just watching real life unfold and in real life you can plan what will happen next, and assume what will happen next, but it could change in a second. The lives of the characters weren’t particularly exciting. No one dies, no one gets cancer, no one has an epiphany that changes their path, but they all still get to somewhere different than where they started by the end of the film. They all have a journey and we go along with them for the ride. You know how they say that if Reality TV wasn’t scripted and manipulated we wouldn’t want to see it (not that I do anyway)? Nicole Holofcener may have finally proved them wrong. Yes, Friends with Money is a complete work of fiction, but we could be those characters. They could be our neighbors or our best friends. Any of us could end up in marriage waiting to fail, or bored and restless in our life, or as a rich housewife, or taking any job we can get to make money and try to not feel so lonely. Anyone could end up that way and there’s nothing boring about it.