Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for language and sexual situations
Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
There’s a lovely joie de vivre about director Nicole Holofcener’s (“Lovely and Amazing”) pithy dramedy; a hale authenticity that mirrors the incremental stepping stones of life.
Jennifer Aniston finally has a hit on her hands. As struggling housecleaner Olivia she’s the cornerstone of a female foursome who has grown old and successful as friends. But for Olivia who can’t find her groove and shuffles through jobs and relationships with hapless unease.
Filthy rich Franny (Joan Cusack) endeavors to help Olivia by setting her up with her personal trainer (Scott Caan). Who tags along on cleaning jobs to get laid and then demands his cut.
Screenwriter Christine (Catherine Keener) is struggling with her marriage to a decent guy (Jason Isaacs) who nonetheless likes to criticize his sensitive wife, who can’t stomach the fact that the neighbors are furious at them for building a view-blocking McMansion.
Rounding out the unpredictable foursome is upscale clothing designer Jane (Frances McDormand) who’s battling a mid-life crisis and whose hubby (Simon McBurney) just might swing both ways.
Scenes from a marriage, or two or three. The haves vs. the have-nots. Naturally there are resentments, petty jealousies and good-natured back-biting…this is life, isn’t it? The narrative is a nicely observed flow with a refreshing lack of motivation.
Cameras dart into private places with voyeuristic delight, cementing the bond between quirky quartet and audience. “Friends” lays the emotional tension on thick but punctuates it with nimble wit.
Holofcener resists the temptation to drag her leading ladies through mucky transitions that scream convention and lets the boys (Isaacs, McBurney, Caan and Greg Germann) in on the act with punchy shots of comic testosterone.
“Friends” has the good sense to leave its meatier tangents open to suggestion, climaxing with a delectable question mark to savor long after the lights have come up.