2006-05-05 / Columnists

MovieScope

By Robert Snyder

'Friends With Money' - Aniston Has It Maid

Of the former TV actresses currently struggling to be big-time bankable movie stars, Jennifer Aniston of "Friends" fame appears to be leading the pack. Close behind her is Sarah Jessica Parker ("Sex and the City").While Parker has generated some revenue with the modest box office hit, "Failure to Launch," Aniston is making serious movie-acting inroads by playing financially strapped teacher-turned-maid Olivia in "Friends with Money."Partnered with three other potent thespians (Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener and Frances McDormand), Aniston shines in her own low-key comedic way.

The third feature from writer/director Nicole Holofcener, "Friends with Money" has a touch of "Sex and the City" in its female bonding angle (Holofcenter has directed several "Sex" episodes). Yet, its foursome operate in a much more real world...a world with money problems. While only Olivia seems in a financial bind, the others spend a lot of time talking about what to do with their dough. At one point, Franny (Cusack) and her husband, Matt (Greg Germann) announce that they're donating $2 million to a school. That triggers successful fashion designer Jane (Frances McDormand) to ask why they're not giving it to down-and-outer Olivia.

But rich people don't work that way. In fact, the four friends (including Holofcener regular Keener as screenwriter Christine) finally decide that a good way of deposing extra income is to attend a $1,000-a-plate banquet to battle Lou Gehrig's disease, where Olivia's contribution will be covered with Jane supplying the gown. However, the decision is met with litany of logic repeated by the women wondering, "Why have a banquet when you could just give the money directly to the charity?" Because charity dinners are the way of the rich.

Olivia is hooked up with Franny's personal trainer (Scott Caan), who turns out to be the louse of all lice. He accompanies her to a cleaning job, dresses her in a French maid costume, has sex, asks for a share of her $50-an-hour compensation, then goes out with an old girlfriend.

Life switches for the best when Olivia's scruffy client, Marty (Bob Stephenson), becomes a love interest with a surprisingly good reason for his ongoing unemployment...he's independently wealthy.

While Aniston's scenes are the most intriguing, they are a mere portion of the story, which includes the serio-comic complexities of the other three friends and their marital and monetary dilemmas. It all adds up to an engaging, entertaining and intelligent film, where the only weakness is its meandering sitcom quality. See it and see why Aniston has it made (maid) as major movie star.

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