Nicole Holofcener risks opening with its two funniest characters. A couple (David Cross and Amber Tamblyn) are playing out old arguments in a doctor’s office, each frustrated at the other’s flaws and completely unable to relate to the other. The chemistry is palpable and the comedy hilarious. We then cut to their beleaguered therapist and there is a slight disappointment when it becomes clear that he is our protagonist, though to be fair he probably feels the same way.
Dom is a failing therapist whose patients are losing patience with him. His wife Beth is a published author struggling with her second book and failing to engage her small class of writing students. Her sister is an interior decorator who hates her clients and her brother-in-law is an actor who’s most notable role is some ways behind him. The fragile peace of the group is disrupted when Beth overhears her husband slating her new book, revealing that he has been lying to her for years.
The problems of the little group of friends are relatively mild and the film essentially breaks down to a series of sketches about modern life and relationships connected by the theme of dissatisfaction. It’s a film about living with compromise. Each character is struggling with the expectations that they have set for themselves and becomes furious with others when they echo those expectations.
The film’s central drama concerns Beth’s realisation that the encouragement her husband has given her is sometimes insincere, reflecting her own lack of faith in her abilities. Her mother frequently downplays her accomplishments and gently needles her. This is a pattern of behaviour she’s desperate to avoid with her son but can’t help sharing the desire to encourage him to do better things. The film’s central premise is how best to encourage the people we love without putting undue pressure on them to succeed. The solution is, quite simply, to seek fulfilment from within.
The film is fairly straightforward with little in the way of mystery. Characters will have stated their grievances and vocally come to terms with their issues by the movie’s end. It’s mild but well-observed and funny. It lives on the authenticity of its central performances and the affection they share.