Like its title, Friends With Money has a strangely ingratiating way of being simultaneously coolly casual and disconcertingly blunt. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener picks up where her richly observed previous features Walking And Talking and Lovely & Amazing left off, casting a knowing eye on the vanity, jealousy, and ennui afflicting a group of female friends wrestling unsteadily with middle age. Holofcener is especially perceptive in exploring how our culture's obsession with youth makes aging gracefully nearly impossible, and how money wriggles into relationships regardless of whether the people involved want it to.
Catherine Keener, the star of Holofcener's previous films, returns as a successful screenwriter whose marriage to writing partner Jason Isaacs has entered a bleak endgame in which a single thoughtless remark unleashes decades of pent-up resentment. Meanwhile, her pal Jennifer Aniston wanders through life in a stoned depressive haze and enters into an ill-advised fling with a cheerfully superficial personal trainer, expertly played by a funny Scott Caan. Frances McDormand's unhappiness manifests as rage rather than depression, while Joan Cusack is strangely short-changed dramatically as the fourth longtime friend.
Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Friends With Money is an unmistakably Los Angeles comedy of manners. But rather than pushing conflicts and misunderstandings into the realm of dark comedy like Enthusiasm, or throttling them into lurid melodrama like Crash, Holofcener's film remains rooted in keen observations about everyday life. Holofcener possesses a genius for creating exquisitely realized characters who seem to have led full, rich, complicated lives before the film's first scene takes place, and will go on living complex, idiosyncratic existences long after they disappear from the screen. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she has four of the best actresses in Hollywood as the leads, especially Keener, who has developed a potent chemistry with Holofcener over the course of their projects together. Holofcener's characters have the roughhewn complexity of real people, and in spite of their minor quirks, insecurities, and all-too-human mistakes, it's a consistent pleasure to spend time in their company.