Related Articles: Movies, All

Friends with Money

No, It's Not the Big-Screen Adaptation of "Friends"

Jennifer Aniston's post-Friends career has certainly kept her active. Although Aniston seems most comfortable top-lining romantic comedies, like last year's Rumor Has It or the forthcoming The Break Up with Vince Vaughan, she's also not adverse to taking roles in small, independent productions, like 2002's underseen, underrated The Good Girl and now writer/director Nicole Holofcener's (Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing) latest film, Friends With Money, an ensemble comedy/drama centered on three wealthy, married friends and their single friend (played by Aniston).

Olivia (Aniston), a former school teacher turned maid, spends her days cleaning houses, smoking pot, and occasionally visiting her far more affluent friends, Christine (Catherine Keener), Jane (Frances McDormand), and Franny (Joan Cusack). Christine and her husband, David (Jason Isaacs), write screenplays together. Jane has done well as a fashion designer. Franny, the wealthiest of the four friends, inherited a family fortune. Olivia is the only unmarried, unattached member of the four-woman circle and drifts without purpose or plans for her future. She's also still hung up on a married ex-lover. Franny, hoping to help Olivia, sets her up on a blind date with Mike (Scott Caan), Franny's narcissistic, immature personal trainer. Willing to settle for whatever's available, Olivia enters into an ill-considered relationship with Mike.

Olivia's better off friends have problems of their own. Christine and David's marriage is faltering on barely suppressed conflicts, their screenwriting partnership is on the skids, and the second story they're adding to their ranch-style house is understandably causing friction with their next-door neighbors. Despite a supportive mate in Aaron (Simon McBurney), Jane is profoundly unhappy, striking out meanly whenever she feels she's been slighted or overlooked, and letting her hair go unwashed. Meanwhile, Jane's friends openly question Aaron's sexual orientation. Franny's relationship with her husband, Matt (Greg Germann), appears stable, but their interactions betray an inability to confront potentially troubling issues in their relationship (e.g., his smoking, her passive-aggressiveness). Each woman seems to think they know what's best for the other three, while blindly ignoring their own relationship problems or their own shortcomings as friends.

Not unexpectedly, all four women are headed for minor and major crises, the exposure of half-hidden revelations and, if lucky, one or two epiphanies along the way. Unfortunately, not all of them get there, and where they end up isn't particularly different than where they started out. Then, of course, there's the money issue, with Olivia on the outside looking in and her friends seemingly oblivious to her financial problems. Friendships and money don't mix (that's a given in the real world as well) and how well or how badly the four friends navigate the money issue plays a significant part in how they resolve their relationships.

Friends with Money would have benefited if writer/director Nicole Holofcener had better developed the secondary characters (especially the men, none of whom could be described as three-dimensional) or if she had given the central characters more emotionally satisfying arcs. Presumably, Holofcener wanted to avoid melodramatic, soap opera clichés, but relying solely on minor epiphanies isn't likely to satisfy many viewers. Too bad, though, given the experienced cast and their uniformly first-rate performances, Friends With Money could have been a better, more memorable film.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars