Nicole Holofcener's films (Lovely and Amazing, Walking & Talking) are like therapy sessions for people whose therapist doesn't really want to cure them. They all have issues, and they're the first (or else the last) to admit it. Naturally, these issues make them interesting, and so does Holofcener's way of presenting them. She writes and directs with a rhythm that's at once awkward and awkwardly real. This is an acquired taste, but then, admit it, so are most of your friends.
Her new movie's title, Friends With Money, describes the small social circle of Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), formerly a teacher at a ritzy private school, but now depressed, single, obsessed with her married ex-fling, and working as a maid in Los Angeles.
Olivia's three gal pals all have husbands and money. Christine and David (Catherine Keener, Jason Isaacs) are writing a screenplay and adding a floor to their house so they can see the ocean. Franny and Matt (Joan Cusack, Greg Germann) own a business and buy a table for the gang at an ALS benefit. Jane (Frances McDormand) designs $800 shirts ("I know it's overpriced, but it has to be"), and her ambiguously gay British husband, Aaron (Simon McBurney), designs bars of soap with chunks of fruit in them.
Together they dine, talk, talk about each other, have a meal, talk to other people, dine again, and then talk a little more. For Holofcener, dialogue is action, although several things do take place. Olivia begins sleeping with Mike (Scott Caan), a semi-moronic personal trainer. And Aaron makes a new friend named Aaron (Ty Burrell), who's also married and, it would seem, rather gay.
Holofcener leaves some of their fates unresolved, some nervously in transition, and some on the precipice of hope. There's even one relatively happy marriage, if you can believe that. She moves things along with dialogue that's dry, tart and occasionally outright funny.
In Holofcener's world, women need to snap out of denial and end their self-deprecation, and men need to care about someone other than themselves. Her ideas about money are conventional but true: It doesn't necessarily bring happiness, although it can; and those who have it obsess on those who have more of it. Still, Friends With Money feels a bit like a pilot for an HBO series, and its opening meal recalls an episode of Friends, with penniless Aniston functioning in the movie's scenario the same way she did in the TV version. One wonders if Holofcener has Christine and David writing a banal relationship drama as a counterpoint to, or critique of, her own movie.
The acting is very good, especially McDormand, of course; Aniston, who's unusually relaxed; and McBurney, who has to signify gay without making his marriage seem utterly ridiculous. So Aaron just treats everyone tenderly, thus illustrating another of Holofcener's mini-ideas: If we don't all do the right thing, then little by little, the world becomes an uglier place.