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Written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack

Centering stories around the lives of four very different women who happen to be friends for no particular reason other than because the screenwriters say so, is a common television practice. From “Sex and the City” to “Desperate Housewives” to even “The Golden Girls”, four women grow as archetype characters as the years roll on and the series develops. No specific story drives the characters’ progressions, just one scenario after the next that showcases how each personality type handles different circumstances. The formula succeeds as a long running series because the characters go through highs and lows, learn some lessons, struggle with some others. When applied to a feature film, the formula is boxed into a limited frame that ultimately highlights one focus. In the case of Nicole Holofcener’s FRIENDS WITH MONEY, Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack make up a foursome of women who struggle with success, remodeling, finding their calling or finding a worthy cause to donate the extra millions they have lying around. Everything in their lives is difficult and often uncomfortable. Everyone in their lives, including themselves, has issues and problems handling those issues. So when Aniston’s character, Olivia, claims “I’ve got problems,” in the last moments of the films, that’s really all the film amounts to, leaving out some of the causes and not bothering with any solutions.

It seems that every movie released these days starring Jennifer Aniston has the added pressure of successfully establishing her as a movie star. FRIENDS WITH MONEY takes the backdoor approach on this one as it is an indie film. If it doesn’t make a ton of money at the box office, no one ever expected it to. A high profile star does an indie film for credibility. She has done it before with fare like THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION and THE GOOD GIRL, but if the indie film doesn’t strike exactly the right chord with the critics then all that hard work is wasted. FRIENDS WITH MONEY will not be the film that gives Aniston the firm ground she seems to be chasing after so intensely. In fact, I’m not even clear why she agreed to do it in the first place. She has clearly proven she has a limited acting range with last year’s DERAILED (Horrid!) and RUMOR HAS IT (Aggravating!) but yet decided to star opposite women who are known for their strong presence and versatility. Cusack exhibits a calm, restrained quality not ordinarily seen in her work, while McDormand and Keener play women with internalized anger that is coming out of them in different fashions without their comprehension. Aniston plays the most lost of the four women and that is only further reinforced when she looks lost acting opposite such experience. She plays a stoner house-cleaner who just looks vacant at all times instead of a paralyzed soul, which is what her character calls for.

Very little is resolved at the end of FRIENDS WITH MONEY and having friends with money hardly seems to play a significant function in the film. Aniston’s Olivia is the only one without and the film focuses on so much more that does not derive from that particular dilemma. On the one hand, it would have been trite to make tired statements like the single girl has it more figured out than all her married friends or the girl with little to no cash is the happiest. On the other hand though, drawing at least one conclusion might have saved this movie from mediocrity.

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