Interview With Nicole Holofcener


True, "Nightmare on Elm Street" was number one at the box office last weekend, taking in $32.2 million, confirming once again that the vast majority of film goers don't give a shit about the quality of the "entertainment" they chuck out ten or more bucks to consume. On the other hand, however, in the battle of limited release films, Nicole Holofcener's "Please Give," one of the best movies of the year so far by one of our best filmmakers, grossed a per screen average nearly double that of "The Human Centipede," which if not the worst film of the year is probably the most disgusting,  (I haven't seen it, but it would be hard-pressed to  outstink "Furry Vengeance," which I have had the dubious pleasure of enduring). In other words, "Please Give" took in $128,696 on five screens, or $25,739 per screen. "Centipede" on one screen took in $13,500.

          I hear you saying: big deal. Ms Holofcener, however, was rather worried about how the film would do when I interviewed her last week. It's not an easy picture to market -- a deadpan, bittersweet, extremely smart comedy about New Yorkers worried about used furniture, apartment vacancies, acne, aging, death, guilt, vanity, and what to do in the face of the endlessness of human suffering. It stars Holofcener's frequent collaborator Catherine Keener as a a co-owner of a vintage furnishings shop with her husband, played by Oliver Platt. The two want to expand their living space, but to do so their 90-year-old next door neighbor, played by Ann Morgan Guilbert  (Millie Helper from "The Dick Van Dyke Show!")


to die.

          Here's what she had to say:

PK: You reduced my girlfriend to tears throughout the movie.

NH: Oh, I'm glad. I want everyone to cry. My mom's probably seen the movie ten times; she cries every time.

PK: What's the most crying moment for her?

NH: Probably the scene where the two women tell each other they're good people, or the ending. Sometimes I tear up, and I made it.

PK: And with the kid with Down Syndrome. It seems like filmmakers often go to the kid with Down syndrome when they want to jerk some tears.

NH: And I'm no different.

PK: What touches me most is that you do that, but you're not manipulative. There's something genuine about it.

NH: I mean in the scene she's [Katie, played by Catherine Keener] the pathetic one; but she has pity for them.

PK: Catherine Keener is sort of your doppelganger.

NH: Yeah, she plays a good me. And she gets me. That's why I keep using her; she's got to me.

PK: I read in some interview that you're going to put the collaboration on hold for a while. Is that true?

NH: Probably. You never know. But right now I feel inclined's not so much work with someone challenge myself. Have a new face. Each time though I say, "I should work with someone else." And then I want Catherine. We'll see.

PK: One thing about this movie is that it will affect a lot of people who  care for elderly parents. Do you find that you're getting response from people for that reason?

NH: Yeah, people my age seem to respond to it really strongly. They have teenage kids, or are dealing with elderly parents, and they're facing the second half of their lives. So I imagine that's why it's moving. Aside from just watching people feel pain or triumph over pain.

PK: It's an interesting comparison with films like "Greenberg" are totally misanthropic, whereas in your movie it's bleak but also more optimistic.

NH: Yeah. I don't really see the comparison to "Greenberg" except that it's a very individual movie, and that he [Baumbach] isn't afraid of making characters that aren't always likeable. But other than that they're completely different films.

PK: One of the issues in this film, and also other films of yours is how to respond to the unlimited misery in the world.

NH: As much as you can handle, yeah.

PK: It's ironic because these days that's not a very fashionable idea. There's a prevalent political movement against helping the poor or immigrants. They're self-righteous about it, but it seems like they're basically selfish.

NH: They wouldn't say that, but that's what it is. They would call it something else. Let everyone fend for themselves. I don't understand how they sleep at night.

PK: On the other hand there's a limousine liberal kind of image, people who have a lot of money who want to help, but they really don't make a difference.

NH: Well, that's sort of what I'm examining in myself and poking fun at in myself and others. That my limousine liberal guilt is not particularly helpful to anyone. So what's the point of feeling so guilty if one is so useless? And is that okay? You know there's a person for everything. There's a person who will go to Cambodia or Africa or Afghanistan and help others. And there's a person who will be a sergeant. I'm not either of those things; is that okay? What is my role? Who am I supposed to be? How do I help? How do I fit in? I don't have any answers. I'm just throwing them out there in the form of many characters.

PK: Well the fact that you make other people aware of these things in your films is more of a contribution than promoting the opposite .

NH: Probably because that's actually a negative contribution and dangerous.

PK: Do you give $20 bills to pan-handlers.

NH: I have given money. But it's usually a couple bucks.

PK: Do you have pet causes?

NH: Not really. I have organizations I consistently give to because they constantly mail me stuff. You know, once you give, forget it. You can't stop. I definitely am giving more as I make more money or just get older. But I can't afford to give thousands and thousands of dollars. I have to put my two kids through school.

PK: There's always Warren Buffet.

NH: Yeah. I always wonder when you heard someone has donated $500,000 to Haiti, and I donate $100, does that make a difference? Or is that just to say I gave money to Haiti? And to make me feel better?

PK: I heard you're tired of having your films compared to Woody Allen.

NH: Yeah. Do we have to talk about it? I just talked about for 20 minutes. Compare me to someone else. Roman Polanksi. (laughs)

PK: John Cassavettes.

NH: Okay, cool.

PK: Martin Scorsese, with Keener as your De Niro.

NH: I love his movies. I went to film school and he was one of my teachers. He makes amazing movies. He fell asleep during a screening of my short film, and the whole class just looked at each other.

PK: That's probably the only time he's fallen asleep in his life.

NH: Probably. It wasn't exactly his cup of tea. It was about a girl who's obsessed with a boy who's mean to her.

PK: Like "Taxi Driver."

NH: You're right.

PK: But he was a big influence in your movie-making?
NH: Only in that I felt so passionate about his movies. I was in awe of "Raging Bull" and "GoodFellas." They're great characters.

PK: One more thing about Woody Allen. I heard he broke a lollipop over your head.

NH: We were in San Francisco. They were making "Take the Money and Run." He was just a jokester. Probably it was in front of other adults for their benefit. And I pretended to laugh the way a ten-year-old would. And then I cried.

PK: Who does that sort of thing?

NH: Someone who doesn't know how kids feel. That was kind of the way he used to joke with me.

NEXT: Eleven-year-old killers.

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