Catherine Keener has worked hard over the last ten years to develop a very particular character. One level of success in Hollywood is found by what is called “niche-ing out,” finding your niche and refining it over time in many different roles. Keener’s is openly sexual, yet sensitive, intelligent, but often not educated, more working class but with a memory of being “to the manor born” as my Mother used to say, younger in spirit than her years, independent and a bit of a smart ass but naturally more of a victim.
It has worked well for her in everything from 40 Year Old Virgin to Synecdoche, NY with Philip Seymour Hoffman. She can hold her own very nicely with a natural clown like Steve Carell as well as with a deeply method actor like Hoffman. She is comfortable in different genres as well as different types of actors.
I think she would admit that she is happier in supporting roles where she doesn’t have to give too much away, or carry others around with her. And that is part of the problem with Please Give.
She plays Kate, one half of a couple who buys and sells what dead people leave behind. Oliver Platt is the other half, but the focus is very much on Keener. It is the fourth film she has made with director Nicole Holofcener. Each one asks more of Keener and it isn’t that she isn’t capable, I just find it difficult to stay with and support a character who is as inherently weak as Keener’s is for a full two-hour film.
Her character is right on the edge of being a New York stereotype that you would swear you’d seen before in a Woody Allen film, but in this case,with a lot less subtlety and artfulness. The lack of artfulness is not Keener’s fault it’s the writer/director’s, but it does become her problem. And ours as the audience.
Please Give is currently playing at the Landmark Downer Theatre.