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Friends with Money

As slice-of-life indie dramedies go, Friends with Money (2006) is smart and engaging, if not wholly satisfying. In a way, the film is a victim of its own success — thanks to writer/director Nicole Holofcener's realistic, insightful script and the exceptionally strong cast, it's hard not to feel like the relationships, issues, and characters explored over the course of the 90-minute movie are merely the tip of the iceberg. Just as viewers are really getting to know longtime L.A. friends Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), Jane (Frances McDormand), Christine (Catherine Keener), and Franny (Joan Cusack), their story ends, leaving enough unanswered questions to be mildly frustrating. But ultimately that's an acceptable tradeoff for what the film does offer: nuanced portraits of mature, complex women coming to terms with the realities of their lives. Those realities aren't necessarily unpleasant — warm-hearted Franny, for one, is swimming in money and married to a man (Greg Germann) who adores her — but they all require some negotiation. Christine, for example, is successful enough as a screenwriter that she and her husband/writing partner, David (Jason Isaacs), can afford to add a second story to their home; but will their marriage survive the remodel? Meanwhile, Jane is a successful clothing designer with a strong marriage and an adorable son, but the earliest stages of menopause have left her in a constant state of exhaustion and outrage. And single, pot-smoking Olivia is in the iffiest situation of the bunch — after quitting her teaching job in a ritzy suburb because she couldn't stand the snobby, over-entitled kids, she's started cleaning houses for a living, straightening out the surface chaos of other people's lives while she tries to figure out her own. As in The Good Girl (2002), Aniston seems to particularly relish the opportunity to play a very un-Friendly character (Olivia is a complicated mix of resignation, hope, defiance, and acceptance), but all four stars turn in strong performances. McDormand's rants about the small injustices of daily life are bound to strike a sympathetic chord with audiences, Cusack infuses even the most trivial exchanges with her off-beat humor (though at a lower pitch than usual, which suits the film perfectly), and Keener continues to prove that she's an expert at portraying outwardly strong women who are terrified of vulnerability. The four women are all very different, but their friendship is the one thing they can all count on — and it's what makes Friends with Money such a compelling snapshot of life. Sony Pictures Classics' DVD includes both anamorphic (2.35:1) and full-screen transfers (both are good), as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (French 2.0 Surround is also available, as are French and English subtitles). The extras roster offers a commentary track by Holofcener and producer Anthony Bregman, an 11-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, shorter featurettes filmed during the movie's Sundance Film Festival and L.A. premieres, and a bevvy of previews. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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