Cinema Signal:

The Dysfunctional Family Christmas Songbook

. "Friends With Money"

This is what I call a time capsule movie, serving as a pretended function of archiving relationships and societal issues in early 21st century America. Seen in that context -- as a specimen for study by a future forensic sociologist -- it's a cross section of a group of friends chosen as examples, chronicling how they relate together and split into their individual cells, called homes, putting on exhibit a few of the incurable problems that marriages incur and promoting the idea that the single life is no better. We, who are living here at this time and place know it's merely a comedy and wink along with the pretense.

Merely? Hey, it's not so easy to get a chuckle these days, so it's worth going along with, whatever agenda or message screenwriter Nicole Holofcener might be promoting here, or experiences she may be using as a basis for her wry, sometimes witty satire on modern life. Some of it is observably realistic, but some is exaggeration for the benefit of humor and just maybe to develop a feeling of superiority.

Perhaps the most troublesome part to swallow is Olivia (Jennifer Anniston) whose challenges in finding a new boyfriend after parting with the married one who dumped on her, and the self-confidence issues that have her exchanging a job as a teacher with that of a housekeeper are those of a person far more experienced in rejection than the cutey Anniston ever had to. You can play act all you want but what the eye tells us doesn't support the fiction.

Ten to one Holofcener had a totally different image in mind for this character when she wrote her original draft. But, someone had to raise the marquee value so it wound up as an ensemble headed by Brad Pitt's ex-squeeze. Let me also say that no guy is going to pass on a babe with a body like hers. Or, am I being too male piggish about casting choices? Anyway, that said, Anniston does well in trying to make us believe in the phony pretext.

In this circle, the couple with the money -- and that means enough to give 5 and 6 figure amounts to liberal charities -- are Franny (Joan Cusack) and Matt (Greg Germann - you remember him from Allie McBeal) with a marriage that seems to be well oiled and working as smoothly as the Rolls that may be in the garage.

Contrasting against it is the marriage of Jane (Frances McDormand) and effeminate Aaron (Simon McBurney). She's oblivious to his true sexual preference, or acts that way so as not to disrupt the household, and he, insensitive moron that he is, thinks nothing of sharing his new male liaisons to the point of oliging his wife to double date with his latest attraction, a similarly married guy with male proclivities. Utterly repressed Jane may have the worst of the lot, poor thing.

Which is not to say that everything is rosy with Christine (Catherine Keener) and husband David (Jason Isaacs), a screenwriter couple who haven't had sex for more than a year. There just isn't enough time between their fights over script choices, their fights over the new room addition, their fights over their lost friendships with neighbors, and their fights over trivialities. Other than that, they're fine.

So is this a microcosm of society today, or is it a superficial attempt to gloss and dramatize relational boredom? You decide.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Frances McDormand, Jennifer Anniston, Catherine Keener and Joan Cusack
Beauties all.
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