For any Chase overdraft-beleaguered soul who defeats their famine with repeated free samples of hickory sausage at Whole Foods, “Friends with Money” is the movie for you. For those who blistered and toiled through 9-5 gigs until making bank off of your movie crafty cross stitches on Etsy, “Friends with Money” is also for you. And for anyone whose anguished that your friend hasn’t paid your $7.62 Venmo request for beer despite them flaunting their new beemer just a week ago, “Friends with Money” will soothe your fiduciary and emotional woes with its soft-spoken drama and heartfelt characters, fictional individuals who feel so akin to real people we wonder if writer and director Nicole Holofcener surveilled them around just for research purposes.
We follow a small group of Los Angeles friends as they navigate through the pangs and boredom of middle age. There’s Christine (Catherine Keener) who is part of a successful screenwriting duo, the other, not-so-better half being her emotionally unavailable husband David (Jason Isaacs). There’s Franny (Joan Cusack) and Matt (Greg Germann), regulars at charity luncheons and galas and are heavily rumored to have never had a single argument throughout the course of their courtship. Then there’s Aaron (Simon McBurney), the believed-to-be-gay husband of Jane (Frances McDormand), a clothing designer with bad personal hygiene and a bizarre grudge against the world. And last but not least, we have Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), still single, still struggling, living a life that wouldn’t have been thought as bad in her twenties but now is a perpetual pity party to which all her older friends are eager to accept their invites.
Their interpersonal relationships are intimate and genuine, each a sincere examination of how money (or the lack of it) impacts their lives. Christine has the means to build another story on her ranch home but those extra 10 feet ostracize her from her hubby and the rest of her neighbors down below. While Jane is successful, she has enough time to become preoccupied with the trivial injustices supposedly committed against her. Despite having a kid and a wife, David’s distinguished mannerisms and impeccable sense of style earn him unwanted advances from gay men and even more outside ruminations about his sexual preferences from his friends. Franny is seemingly unable to enjoy the fact that she is wealthy and happy without being guilt-tripped or mildly-criticized by her peers. And Olivia is left scrounging for beauty scraps and is set on dates with LA’s lowliest leftover bachelors, like the jolly dickhead Mike (Scott Caan) who takes an unsanctioned cut out of Olivia’s hard-earned housekeeping cash.
They are all characters in crisis, yearning for some deeper human connection or more profound meditation on life that they can’t seem to find anywhere west of the 405. It’s a mature take on adult relationships, that we’ll readily open the door for our friends whenever they stop by, but judge them through the curtains when they walk back outside. “Friends with Money’s” characters still bring their issues face-to-face with each other but without looking their friend directly in the eye. Christine and Franny have no issue with telling Olivia it was her fault for quitting her job and becoming a maid, but even if Olivia had kept her old gig as a teacher, but if Olivia gave the same treatment to Christine or Franny, they wouldn’t take her as seriously because she is poor and struggling. David has no qualms tearing into Jane for her unkempt appearance and poor social behavior, but Jane would never be able to hold the same authoritative ground if she were critiquing any of David’s shortcomings.
It’s a complex but wholly understandable look at interpersonal ties and how money acts as a constant friction in tearing them apart or bringing them together. Everyone involved is exemplary but Aniston steals the show as Olivia, eschewing the blue collar plight while grappling with loneliness and the jealousy of her better-off friends. Nicole Holofcener delivers an easily-digestible film whose themes are profound but without a single guiding mission statement. She isn’t arguing that money is the root of all evil, or that greed and envy can rip relationships apart. Money can be good, money can be bad, it can exacerbate an existential crisis or qualm one from getting out of hand. “Friends with Money” explores all of these crises and themes with poise and delicacy, a rare, nuanced look at human connection that’s far from replicable.