Nicole Holofcener's delicate character study "Friends with Money" is a small miracle: a story of four 40ish women, all longtime friends, in which very little happens. In other words, it feels like life. The quartet of friends, who talk to each other in the easy shorthand that years of intimacy brings, seems utterly real; the movie feels like spending time in someone else's circle, peeking in on someone else's life.
With one exception, it's a rarefied circle of success and comfort. Franny (Joan Cusack) is staggeringly rich; the greatest problem she and her pleasant husband, Matt (Greg Germann), seem to have is where to donate a spare $2 million. Christine (Catherine Keener) is a screenwriter whose once-happy marriage to a fellow writer (Jason Isaacs) is crumbling.
Jane (Frances McDormand), a fashion designer, is quietly having a midlife crisis; she's closing herself off from her sweet husband, Aaron (Simon McBurney), refusing to wash her hair (it just gets dirty again, she says) and exploding into rage when someone's car cuts her off.
Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), the one friend who's single and without money, works as a maid and surreptitiously makes late-night calls to her married ex-lover, while the other three women plot to fix her up with somebody, anybody. Unfortunately, "anybody" turns out to be Franny's dimwit trainer (Scott Caan), a cheerful cad who accompanies Olivia on her cleaning rounds, then insists on getting a cut of her pay.
Nobody's problems get solved neatly in the course of "Friends with Money," just as they rarely do in life; the movie seems to float along, without much of a beginning or an end. And while humor is definitely part of the mix — these four are smart, funny women — audience members expecting fluffy comedy (of the high-gloss sort in which Aniston frequently appears) will be disappointed; this picture of midlife isn't always pretty.
But, in hanging out with Franny, Christine, Jane and Olivia, you get not only a nuanced portrait of women's friendship but a glorious showcase of four actresses in their prime. (And it's worth noting that while they all look terrific, they look their age — refreshing, in an era when too many thirty-something actresses freeze their foreheads with plastic surgery, afraid to let a wrinkle emerge.)
Each takes her now-familiar onscreen persona and makes it work perfectly with her character: Cusack's warm spaciness seems spot-on for Franny, who lives in a happy bubble of wealth; Keener's dry, down-to-earth intelligence gives poignancy to Christine, who makes her living with words and yet doesn't want to recognize when words fail her. (This is Keener's third collaboration with Holofcener; the two work beautifully together.)
McDormand, charmingly sardonic and slightly self-mocking, makes something heartbreaking of Jane, who's looked into the future and found nothing there. "I'm just tired," she says. "There's no more wondering about what it is going to be like, my fabulous life."
And Aniston, wearing stained sweatpants and holey sweaters so casually you barely notice them (a lesser actress — and director — would make a point of showing them to us), shrugs off her celebrity persona and brings a sad girl-next-door sweetness to Olivia. Late in the film, she's shocked to hear that somebody she's assumed to be financially struggling is actually rich, but quickly recovers with a small, cheerleadery, "Good for you!"
You root for her, as you root for all of these women; they're someone we know, or maybe even us.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org