Friends with Money review by Mike Long

OK everybody, the time has come. I knew that it would arrive someday and now it's here. It's time to put a moratorium on slice of life movies. Yes, that pillar of the independent cinema landscape has run its course and it's time for it to go away for a while. Certainly this will mean tough time for the Sundance Film Festival and poor Kevin Smith will have to search for work, but we'll all be better in the end. What prompted this decision? Watching the film Friends with Money convinced me that it's time for a change.

Friends with Money deals with, what else, a group of friends. Jane (Frances McDorman) is a fashion designer, who is married to Aaron (Simon McBurney), who runs an organic bath products company. Franny (Joan Cusack), who inherited money, is married to Matt (Greg Germann). Christine (Catherine Keener) and David (Jason Isaacs) write screenplays together. As the title implies, these three characters are all wealthy. The odd-man out in this group is Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), a former school-teacher who now works as a maid. Olivia definitely appears to be going through a rough period in her life, as she spends her days cleaning houses, and the rest of the time she smokes pot, gets free cosmetic samples, and dials the same phone number over and over, hanging up each time.

However, Olivia isn't the only one with problems. Christine and David fight constantly and Christine feels that David doesn't care for her opinions or her feelings. Jane seems to be going through a bout with depression as she's stopped washing her hair and she's quick to lose her temper. Meanwhile, everyone thinks that Aaron is gay and men are constantly hitting on him. Franny and Matt give the impression of being the only quasi-happy couple, but Franny doesn't know how to tactfully approach Olivia about financial situation. Olivia begins seeing Franny's trainer, Mike (Scott Caan), who is neither smart nor nice. As we watch these characters go through their lives, we know that happiness isn't in the cards for everyone involved.

The central idea of Friends with Money is a very good one. Many can relate to the idea of being friends with someone (or several someones) who is more financially stable (if you will). People can say that money doesn't matter all that they want, but it does, and the importance of money can cut across any relationship, especially friendships. The movie also offers a peek inside the private lives of affluent couples, which has the potential to be very interesting.

The problem with Friends with Money is that it never goes anywhere with its central ideas. This is truly a slice of life movie. It begins with the characters already having been established and living their lives and it ends with the characters in the middle of their lives. And that's about it. OK, that's not exactly true, as there are some significant events in the movie. But this wants to be a true slice of life film, the movie doesn't intrude upon the characters lives and we learn very little about them.

And there are going to be those who are OK with that and applaud the film for keeping everything on a surface level, but I want/need more. The movie never goes below the surface and lets us know what the characters are really thinking. For example, Jane remains an enigma throughout the film. Although a mid-life crisis is hinted at, we never really learn why she is depressed. And we don't know if she knows that everyone else thinks Aaron is gay and if she does, what she thinks about it. We learn why Olivia left her teaching position (this is probably the most realistic and depressing point in the film), but we don't get much insight into why her life is headed in the direction that it is. We learn the least about Franny and Matt and they come across as quite bland. The only couple that gets any exploration is Christine and David, as they actually talk about their feelings and we get to see (some) of the consequences of their actions. As for the other storylines, the movie simply ends, leaving much unresolved. Again, I know that there are filmgoers who crave this kind of movie, but the lack of detail in film's like this is simply poor movie-making to me. You can't have a character study with no character development.

In the end, Friends with Money feels incomplete and pointless. And this is truly a shame because the idea of being the poor person in a group of rich friends is one which needs to be explored. (And don't get me started on how the movie depicts money as a cause of unhappiness and how the ending may or may not be ironic.) But the movie simply wanders from character to character giving us bits and pieces, but never a complete picture.

Friends with Money buys its way onto DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the full-frame and widescreen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is exactly what one would want and expect for a movie like this (which just recently played in theaters). The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The film was shot in a very natural style, and the colors, while not flashy, look good and the image has a nice depth. The framing appears to be accurate. There was some mild artifacting at times, but otherwise the picture was solid. The same goes for the DVDs Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The dialogue is clear and audible, which is what we look for in this type of film. Stereo effects are infrequent but good and the occasional surround effect (mostly street noises and the construction at Christine and David's house) sounds fine.

The Friends with Money DVD contains a few extras. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener and producer Anthony Bregman provide an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the DVD. This is a pleasant chat as the two give details of the film's production. They are especially astute at pointing out the paparazzi who are stalking Jennifer Aniston in each shot. Holofcener also bucks the trends by actually talking about from where her ideas come. "Behind the Scenes of Friends with Money" (11 minutes) is a making of featurette which contains comments from the cast who discuss their characters and some on-set footage. We are treated to a reel of red-carpet footage in "Los Angeles Premiere" (4 minutes). "Sundance Featurette" (5 minutes) shows the cast and crew at the film festival where they have a Q&A and this also includes some press junket clips.

4 out of 10 Jackasses

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