Nicole Holofcener's fourth feature is, for the most part, witty and engrossing. Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are bourgeois grave-robbers, stocking their West Village "vintage furniture" store with mid-20th-century pieces bought from the distracted children of the recently dead. Elaborating on their ghoulish realpolitik, the couple has purchased the apartment next door and is only waiting for its 91-year-old inhabitant, Andra (Ann Guilbert), to expire so that they might expand their domain. Kate and Alex have a chubby, zit-plagued adolescent daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele); Andra is looked after by her two grown grandchildren, dutiful Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and selfish Mary (Amanda Peet). Briefly brought together to celebrate Andra's birthday, the two families merge with and mirror each other in unexpected ways. Please Give is neither as unsentimental as it sounds, nor as sentimental as it might have been. The movie is filled with banter, typically concerned with three subjects: money, old age, life in New York. Generally, Holofcener is a stronger writer than director, with a greater gift for riffs than characterization. Her strongest comic creation is Andra, played by Guilbert as an irascible, ignorant, self-assured sourpuss. Keener has the toughest part: Kate is a canny business operator paradoxically cursed with a bleeding heart. Too sensitive for the volunteer social work she imagines she should perform, there's nothing dreamy about Kate's yearning or charming in her weakness. Her liberal guilt is about as convincing as Holofcener's—which may be an example of the movie's perverse honesty.
Peet is cast as the selfish sibling.
Opens at Guild 45 and Uptown, Fri., June 18. Rated R. 90 minutes.