PLEASE GIVE, about all of the above in Manhattan today, is the best movie of the year so far by far. It’s connection to SEX IN THE CITY is a little sex and a lot of City. And the sex portrayed is pathetic—a fat guy and a hugely (emotionally) wounded fading beauty committing adultery without making any personal connection or having much fun.

This movie considers with great sensitivity many politically correct topics without supporting the politically correct conclusions. The central couple make big money by buying the furniture of the newly dead (and formerly elderly) from their grieving children for very little and then selling it in their trendy shop as either antique or retro. The husband sees no problem with this, realizing they are being justly compensated for performing a valuable service from which everyone benefits. The wife is overly guilty about being a parasite and compensates by giving homeless people twenties and trying to volunteer to help out the unfortunate. She breaks down in self-indulgent sentimentality while observing a group of happy, athletic Down syndrome kids playing basketball. She’s so obviously doesn’t have what it takes to work with them them that she asked by the professional caregiver to leave. The kids end up comforting her. Meanwhile, she’s pretty oblivious to the needs of her own daughter, who being zitty (and so merely charming but not stunning) in the City has her own issues. Liberal guilt, we learn, is usually caused by being abstracted from those you actually know and love. Her (very petty) redemptive moment is at the movie’s end, when she loosens up enough to buy her self-esteem challenged daughter some very expensive and flattering jeans as an act of love. The result, of course, is that the homeless who depend on her like domesticated cats will be short a twenty or two.

The husband, meanwhile, all lonely with a wife who is merely an abstracted partner in business, is generous and attentive to the daughter. He buys her nice stuff without worrying about how the injustice affects her soul. He has the affair, but he never stops thinking about his wife and kid. And he’s fairly okay with being somewhat fat, and that fact makes him very attractive to compulsively thin women (I’m not sure studies show that that fact shows up often in real life).

The best thing about this movie is its unflinching portrayal of the lives of two very old (and very near death) woman. One maintains her dignity by being brave and upbeat, the other by being smart and astutely critical of everything. They both are touchingly dependent on the unconditional love of a single grandchild, and that love is the most wonderful thing in the movie by far. In general, the movie shows us how hard it is for the old to be loved these days for all sorts of reasons. One, of course, is that people fear and work against aging and death more than ever.

There’s other great stuff: We get a real feel for how tough and inconvenient it is for even pretty prosperous people to live in the City. And the fairly clastrophobic apartments make the case for the suburbs and their trees and square feet and huge laundry rooms indirectly but insistently.

And we’re shown how dependent an only child is on his or her parents for altogether too much.

The self-obsessiveness of Manhattanites restless in the midst of prosperity reminds us a little of Woody Allen, but not much. This movie is way too pro-family and unsentimental; it’s toughly critical of those who self-obsessively wallow in the misery of their mortality. It might be the type of movie Walker Percy would make if he were a woman and not particularly religious.

Articles by Peter Lawler

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