March 27, 2006

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Friends with Money (R)
Jennifer Aniston navigates the difficulties of having friends with better cars and bigger bank accounts in Friends with Money, a movie not so much a story as a collection of smart, sharply written conversations.

And though not all of these conversations are directly about money, most of them have something to do with money — having money, not having money, not knowing what to do with money or realizing that money doesn’t automatically make you content.

Of all her group of friends, lone singleton Olivia (Aniston) probably has the least complicated relationship with money. Essentially, she needs more of it. Once a teacher at a ritzy private school, she quit (because of the socioeconomic differences between her and her students, maybe, or because she simply didn’t like it) and now works as a maid, in large part we suspect to support a mild pot habit. Straightening up the lives of wealthier people, she occasionally helps herself to a bit of their face cream or the use of their vibrators. She does this in the same half-hearted way that she joins her married, wealthy friends for expensive dinners that she doesn’t intend to pay for.

Not that her friends mind — they’ve gone beyond worrying about money as a necessity. Now their worries are about the way they spend it. Franny (Joan Cusack) and Matt (Greg Germann) couldn’t decide how to give away the $2 million they had for charitable giving — that’s $2 million even after they buy their children $80 shoes and an extravagant number of Christmas gifts. For Christine (Catherine Keener) and David (Jacob Issacs), money has meant a nanny even though both work at home and a gaudy new addition to their house. And despite these creature comforts, they haven’t been able to keep their marriage from crumbling.

Then there’s the enraged Jane (Frances McDormand in top form) and the very feminine Aaron (Simon McBurney), a man whose love of nice clothes often finds him attracting unexpected male attention. Jane is deeply angry about a life that has turned out with great professional success but with unexplained personal disappointment — she achieved too much, perhaps, and now has too much time without a goal to shoot for.

Relationships shift throughout the movie and friendships strain but overall the plot takes second place to watching the women navigate their lives. All four actresses are working at their best here, creating characters that are more or less capable but also flawed and in pain that is frequently of their own making. It’s fascinating to watch and the scenes are often funny, even when they also feature squirming moments of familiarity.

So does it matter that not much actually happens? In a lesser movie, this missing motivation might have left the film floundering. But with the brains injected by writer and director Nicole Holofcener, Friends with Money is a wry, mellow treat. B


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