Friends with Money explores the bonds between women and their pocketbooks

By Eric Benson

In college, if we’re lucky, many of us will make friends whom we will have for the rest of our lives. Our lives will change, without a doubt, but hopefully some of these treasured bonds will remain. That is not to say, however, that they won’t be tested.

Franny (Joan Cusack), one character in Nicole Holofcener’s Friends With Money, wonders whether she would be friends with Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) had they met at a different point in time, before life took them in drastically different directions. However, because of the sisterly bond they’ve formed, these characters—as well as their friends Jane (Frances McDormand) and Christine (Catherine Keener)—continue to celebrate and commiserate together as they approach middle age.

As the film opens, we meet Olivia, in the form of a pair of hands that we see tidying belongings that don’t belong to her. These hands then open a bedside drawer and help themselves to a vibrator. You see, Olivia is a maid who is, as you might guess, single. After one too many taunts from the rich kids whom she taught at an elite prep school, she has taken up an occupation where her doormat tendencies earn her clients who argue down her price. She passive-aggressively hits back by hoarding department-store samples of anti-aging cream and swiping the full-size jars from her clients (it seems that her fixation on anti-aging skin care is an attempt to prolong the period in which she can “find herself”).

While it’s implied that Olivia is younger than the other characters, her aimlessness remains a point of concern and gossip for her friends, all of whom are married and in settled financial straits.

Christine is a screenwriter married to her writing partner, David (Jason Isaacs). They bicker over everything, from dialogue to Christine’s junk-food indulgences. It seems that the only thing that they can agree upon is an addition to their house, and once construction is underway, they even come to disagree about that. Christine’s clumsy tendencies have also escalated of late, but far be it for David to notice that.

Jane is a successful fashion designer who is bursting at the seams with the rage of a woman who realizes that the course of her life has been set. She even refuses to wash her hair (it’ll just get dirty again), and she has a moment of fitful indignity when someone cuts in front of her at Old Navy. She feels that the only difference she can make is to call out the small injustices of daily life. She also must contend with the very common assumption that her fashion-obsessed husband Aaron (Simon McBurney) is gay.

Franny, on the other hand, serves as a happy, somewhat smug foil for the other characters. From a moneyed background, she argues with her husband Matt (Greg Germann) for overpriced shoes for their children—not over their ability to pay, but out of sheer principle. Franny feels free to advise Olivia to seek therapy—but is it that Franny has it all figured out, or that she never had to figure it out to begin with?

The script has a slice-of-life feel to it that makes the film easy to watch. There is food for thought here; it isn’t force-fed but served comfortably for the viewer to sample as desired. Holofcener has a knack for writing characters with telling detail, and the women in particular seem like people she must have known at some point.

This script is done justice by excellent performances all around. The role of Jane seems tailor-made for McDormand, who particularly shines in the moments where her rage manifests itself as sarcasm. Similarly, the role of Olivia is the perfect vehicle for Aniston to capitalize on her more grounded sensibilities. Her ability to play morally ambiguous characters was previously best showcased in The Good Girl and somewhat underutilized in Derailed, but here, stripped of the trappings of her real-life fame and wealth, she is completely believable as an ordinary and very confused woman.

Keener, something of a muse for Holofcener, is wonderfully relatable as Christine. With the capability that she radiates, however, it is curious that Christine remains unaware of certain developments for so long. Finally, Cusack is as sympathetic as anyone in the smugly married role could be. Franny is as much a lightning rod for the group as Olivia seems to be, but even she feels human enough to not be a complete archetype.

Friends With Money is a highly intelligent, easygoing film that offers the viewer much to ponder afterwards. Every word in the film is carefully thought out and highly quotable. The observations about these women’s relationships resonate: Do they gossip because they care, or to make themselves feel better? Either way, I can safely say that if I saw this movie at a different point in time, I’d still enjoy it.