"This is a depressing movie!" writer-director Nicole Holofcener recently told Salon about Friends with Money, her quote-unquote comedy about a group of Los Angelinos who've been together since before any of them had a real job. Now they occupy various rungs on the ladder of success, and it's put a strain on their interactions. How do you invite everybody to a $10,000-a-table charity dinner when one of you is a maid? Bittersweet without the sweet part, Friends with Money doesn't answer that question so much as push it around with a fork, like the last pea on a plate, but the bitterness is strangely refreshing. And so is the movie's cold stare at the ravages Ã?' that's how they see them, anyway Ã?' of middle age. Life may begin at 40, but no one said it would be a happy, fulfilling life.
Let's meet our contestants. Frances McDormand is a successful fashion designer who's so mad at the world she's stopped washing her hair. Catherine Keener is a successful screenwriter whose marriage to her screenwriting partner (Jason Isaacs) has devolved into dueling laptops. Joan Cusack is a successful stay-at-home mom who's stupidly happy, maybe even happily stupid. And Jennifer Aniston is a big, fat Ã?' make that "small, thin" Ã?' loser. She's the maid, in case you're wondering. Although the other women's domestic arrangements seem to vary from extremely comfortable to mind-bogglingly comfortable, she actually has trouble making ends meet. And unlike the rest, she has no husband, nor a boyfriend. That's right, folks, Jennifer Aniston is playing a woman who can't land a decent date. And you know what? She basically pulls it off: She's convincing as a small, thin loser.
Holofcener basically pulls it off, too. I didn't really buy these friends as friends. And I didn't really buy their marriages as marriages Ã?' McDormand to a metrosexual (Simon McBurney) who keeps getting hit on by gay men, Keener to a guy who feels free to comment on the amount of food she's been eating lately ("I can see it in your ass"), and Cusack to...well, Holofcener hasn't really given Greg Germann much to play. (He's stupidly happy.) And she's given everybody else exactly one thing to play: anger or joy or confusion. But her powers of observation can be acute Ã?' for example, the clump of somebody else's hair that Aniston has to keep from going down the drain. And she dares to go where few directors have gone before: deep inside the ties that bind these women together, their fears of aging barely masked by the size of their bank accounts.