Friends With Money

Once a year I spend a full day at the Sydney Film Festival. This is really a magical day. I just head down to the State Theatre and buy tickets to all the sessions that are on that day. I never have any idea of what I will see - I just settle into my seat and wait to see what unfolds. I have seen some extraordinary films this way, things I would never have gone to see had I attempted to select sessions based on my tastes and interests. This kind of exquisite randomness is a great contributor to the feeling of elation I always have by the end of the day.
And using this method I have discovered three of my favourite films: a quirky Belgian exploration of masculinity and male fragility called La Moustache; a moving documentary about blind Tibetan teenagers called Blindsight; and one of the most doggedly peculiar films ever to have emerged from Hollywood, Friends With Money.
Ostensibly a story about a group of female friends approaching middle age, Friends With Money is really an angst-ridden cry of rage at the tremendous boredom and ennui that surrounds middle-class, privileged life. It is dark, clever and at times genuinely disturbing. And the thing about it is, there is not one single bad performance - the ensemble cast seems to have made a mutual decision to abandon any sort of vanity, and each actor seems to compete against the other as to who can appear the most grotesque and the least sympathetic.
I simply cannot single out one particular performance, because I think it would be unfair - each actress shines in her role, and the brilliant script affords each almost equal emphasis, though Jennifer Aniston probably serves as the central character, the sexy but hopeless pot head who finds herself more and more reliant on her successful, middle-class and increasingly wealthy friends.
The script is tremendously brave, and I simply can't believe that any studio was willing to take a gamble on such a peculiar and, in every way, "small" film. Certainly the gamble didn't pay off, because the film sunk without a trace soon after its release.
But I am confident that in years to come it will be aclaimed by film critics and academics as a masterpiece, principally of the scriptwriters art, but also as a vehicle for some very fine acting.
And I love how it breaks all the narrative rules for a Hollywood film - the glamorous heroine is stupid, venal and seeks out exploitative sexual relationships. The successful career women (and Frances McDormand shines here) are neurotic bitches who neglect their personal hygiene, and, ultimately, the only genuinely happy people are those with plenty of money.
Counter-cultural in the extreme, Friends With Money is a masterpiece, and deserves to be better known.


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