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Writer-director Holofcener cleverly keeps the emotions gurgling right under the surface of this engaging interpersonal comedy. It's more about smiles than laughing out loud, but the superior cast members get terrific characters to play with.

Kate and Alex (Keener and Platt) are socially active New Yorkers, supporting charities and trying to help their feisty teen daughter (Steele) understand what's important. But Kate's beginning to feel guilty about their work; they buy furniture from families with recently deceased relatives and resell it at a profit. This is taken to the extreme as they wait for their aging neighbour (Guilbert) to die so they can annex her apartment, and Kate and Alex struggle with how to interact with her very different granddaughters (Hall and Peet).

This is a slice-of-life kind of movie looking at how we constantly must adjust ourselves as we relate to the people around us. Of course this causes us to question our own motives, or at least it should if we are thinking, feeling human beings. But everyone reacts to the world in different ways and the trick is figuring out how to live together. It's a gentle, warm film that meanders through small personal dramas in which emotions often stay hidden, but not always.

The characters are all wonderfully well-written, with complex reactions and fascinating details, which the exceptional actors clearly savour. Along the way, Holofcener and her cast find plenty of humour in sticky interaction, most notably in encounters with people who speak the brutal truth. And as the story continues, we start to see that everyone in this film (and in the world around us) is essentially selfish. And there's not much we can do about it.

But instead of saying this as something bleak and fatalistic, the film celebrates the individuality of these characters along with their integrity (where they have some). The key controlling factor is good old fashioned guilt, which of course is something else we all cope with in different ways. And it's terrific to see essentially good, generous people with complex shades of grey around them. Kate desperately wants the next-door flat, but she doesn't want "miserable vibes" along with it.


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" Excellent "

Rating: 15, 2010

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