Please Give

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

Explores more facets of life within its specific milieu in a swift ninety minutes than most films do in over two hours, and without any idea or character forcibly shoehorned in. Is at its best though when it’s looking at middle-class guilt through Kate (Keener, always wonderful), whose emergent conscience about running a second-hand furniture business that benefits when people die prompts her to volunteer and give to the homeless as means of redemption. Two highlights here: her trip to a facility for the elderly (“She’s really hunched”, Kate says concernedly as a woman shuffles by), and her crying when she volunteers with the disabled (“Uh, you should go”, says her supervisor, embarrassed as Kate starts tearing up). Holofcener finds the humor in both scenarios without being condescending.

I can’t help but also call out my two grumbles: Kate’s trip to her competitor’s store, where a fellow patron’s talk about furniture “having ghosts” unnecessarily verbalizes an idea Holofcener already sufficiently implied, and Kate later envisioning a dead woman sitting in a chair across from her, which undercuts the power of the preceding shot of the chair empty, weighed down by the absence of the woman who died in it.

Mortality isn’t in every plot strand, but it does seem to weave its way through the movie’s periphery by implication, and occasionally comes to the fore. Everyone’s talking about going upstate to see the Fall leaves, beautiful as they die, Rebecca Hall’s character’s job as an assistant radiologist involves testing patients for a deadly disease, Kate and Alex’s economic future hinges on the inevitability of people dying and their furniture moving on. That the movie is so light on its feet and digestible as it alludes to the most profound aspects of human experience is remarkable.

Please Give Trailer

Please Give is currently available to rent on multiple streaming platforms.

Sophie Jones

Written by Taylor Baker

63/100

Jessie Barr’s directorial debut Sophie Jones starring her cousin Jessica Barr manages to to feel personal enough to never lose the interest of the viewer. Though one may meander away briefly in scenes when Sophie lays down in the grass and looks at the sky or has another empty conversation with a peer from school. The film opens up on Jessica Barr’s Sophie rummaging and ruminating in her mothers closet. Looking as one does after a loss for ‘something’. Sophie continues that search for the runtime of the film. Often entangling herself physically if not romantically with a few boys, before realizing they aren’t providing her that ‘something’ either. 

Sophie Jones ultimately leans on the strength of it’s tone and the directness of the conversation of Sophie to nearly everyone she encounters. It’s the small moments that provide the bits of depth to the teen. Such as when she begs her sister to sit with her at lunch after her best friend departs for college, or when she is isolated at a party and goes to sit by herself. Those quiet personal moments give us some much needed empathy for the teen. I do find myself unsure about the full runtime of the film. Her journey doesn’t feel particularly remarkable or defined, rather an extended snapshot of a young girl’s grief. This will certainly be more than enough to grab onto for some viewers, but like Sophie in her mother’s closet at the beginning of the film, I’m still looking for that ‘something’.

There’s a lot of promise in this bootstrapping duo of storytellers. Sophie Jones may have enough sincerity to ring through into the coming of age film audience, if given a solid VOD acquisition to get there. I can certainly see enough potential here for a young adult cult classic. As with many debuts, I’m curious how they’ll follow this project up, and if they can lean more into their comedic sensibilities on the editing side on the next go around. There was a bit to much melancholic harshness during some quite absurd moments for me to feel like this is the best possible edit of the film.

Recommended.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/10/20

Sophie Jones is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up.

You can check out the HIFF Website here and stay up to date on Jessie Barr’s work here.