Every so often, when film journalists run out of things to grouse about, the critical collective will dredge up the old saw about how Hollywood focuses only on the next hot young actress, shoving aside any female thespians above the age of 35 or so. On and on it goes – each year, there comes a point where someone is up in arms about the virtual shunning of talented women past their point of appeal to the MTV set. Of course, that doesn't stop several dozen actresses – four of whom appear in writer/director Nicole Holofcener's (Lovely & Amazing, Walking and Talking) fitfully amusing dramedy Friends with Money – from appearing in worthwhile films and turning in superb performances.
Of course, in the case of Friends with Money, everyone in front of the camera is much better than the material they have to work with; another victim of splashy Sundance buzz equaling ho-hum box office, Holofcener's comedy of bank accounts feels like Woody Allen filtered through Nora Ephron – it ambles about, jabbing out a few laughs but ultimately doesn't really say much about its subject or its characters.
Jennifer Aniston (in The Good Girl mode here) stars as Olivia, the pot-smoking, low maintenance, house-cleaning single friend to the wealthy, self-obsessed trio of Jane (Frances McDormand), Franny (Joan Cusack) and Christine (Catherine Keener). Each woman is married – some happily, some less than – and each woman faces a personal crisis that somehow affects Olivia; Jane, a successful fashion designer, is approaching middle age with her heels dug in while Franny, a hyper-philanthropic mom fusses over Christine's frigid relationship with her husband David (Jason Isaacs). I wish there were a little more to it than that, but Friends with Money is a film that sets these characters up and spends less than 90 minutes letting them bounce off of one another.
Sure, it's proven that money doesn't buy happiness (and quite frankly, Holofcener's cheap twist at the end will likely leave you more disgusted than amused) and rich folks have problems too, but you can't help wishing Holofcener had dug a little deeper. Each of these actresses are capable of handling a heavier load than they're given – it's nearly painful to watch each woman get her one moment to shine, since it's over almost as soon as it begins. Friends with Money will disappoint anyone suckered in by its chick flick cover, as well as anyone seeking out a somewhat thoughtful drama on the personal politics of wealth. With missed opportunities like these, the celluloid faithful probably won't stop lamenting the lack of roles for more mature actresses with titanic talent.
Indie in spirit but not in presentation, Friends with Money arrives on DVD with a crisp, blemish-free 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (in a curious waste of space, viewers also have the option of selecting a 1.33:1 version of the film). Colors pop, blacks are deep and satisfyingly rich and there are no discernible visual flaws. An excellent image.
I found myself turning up the volume occasionally to catch what was being said, but for the most part, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack gets the job done – just don't be surprised if you find yourself turning on those optional English subtitles. Rickie Lee Jones's spare contributions to the soundtrack come through sounding lovely, while most of the action is relegated to the front speakers. A French Dolby 2.0 stereo track is also here, as are optional French subs.
Holofcener sits for a breezy, occasionally informative commentary track alongside producer Anthony Bregman, with the 11 minute, 21 second "Behind The Scenes of 'Friends with Money'" featurette grabbing the cast and crew for a few pithy thoughts. Three minutes, 48 seconds of footage from the Los Angeles premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre is here as is a four minute, 42 second featurette about the film's premiere at Sundance 2006's opening night, with trailers for Marie Antoinette, The Holiday, The Quiet, American Hardcore, House of Sand, Quinceanera, Volver, Sketches of Frank Gehry, Don't Come Knocking, Art School Confidential and Who Killed The Electric Car? completing the disc.
In the case of Friends with Money, everyone in front of the camera is much better than the material they have to work with; another victim of splashy Sundance buzz equaling ho-hum box office, Holofcener's comedy of bank accounts feels like Woody Allen filtered through Nora Ephron. I'd urge fans of any of the actresses featured to give it a spin. I recommend the film, but only barely.