Friends with Money is an understated comedy about money in a classless social setting. The main characters are four women whose friendship far predates any one friend’s respective success or failure. Olivia (Jennifer Anniston) works as a maid for lack of any personal goals, and her low self-esteem is strangely reflected in her dealings with her friends, who show their loving concern by describing her as a charity behind closed doors. Olivia doesn’t know if she’s justifying her laundry list of unhealthy relationships with men based on her low income bracket or her low self-esteem. At one point, she asks Frannie (Joan Cusack), the wealthiest of the group, for monetary help for a career change. Frannie tells her, “You’re the only person I know who doesn’t like exercise and you want to be a personal trainer?” She then offers to send Olivia to a therapist so that she can “figure out what she really wants.”
Though the friends are close in age they’re in different stages of personal and emotional development. Frances McDormand plays Jane, a woman who, on her 43rd birthday, realizes that “this is it—this is my fabulous life.” In response to this awakening, she has fits about injustice in the most mundane circumstances: in parking lots, at farmer’s markets, at Old Navy. Though she’s struggling to overcome the reality of her life as different from the fantasies she expected, her husband Aaron (Simon McBurney) is the model of a loving and dedicated husband, and supports her unselfishly through her rather insufferable antics. This marriage is compared to the relationship of Christine (Catherine Keener) and David, a screenwriting duo who are building a second story to their house and mid-build, they realize that it won’t save their deteriorating relationship.
Friends with Money is deliberately unglamorous. The actors wear little make-up and though three of the four friends own incredible homes and patronize beautiful restaurants, the fantasy of money is never a part of this film. Status as a result of monetary success is glossed over. Presumably, for Friends with Money, status only exists in conditions of comparison. And though the friends do their fair share of objectifying each other—discussing the other friend’s marriages, their lack of sex, their offensive wealth, and the shame of immaturity in adulthood—they also support each other. Each scene deals blatantly with issues that are commonly avoided by less controversial films, in favor of a more “palatable” handling of the subjects of wealth and struggle. Olivia’s is not a Cinderella story and this is as frustrating as it is refreshing. She’s insecure, unsure of herself, unmotivated, and complicit in designing her own failings. The degradation (and occasional humor) of Olivia’s position is constant. It’s not just something that comes up in the conflicts; every piece of her characterization concerns the hardship of her situation.
Though it could be identified as a chick flick (how many times have you seen Frances McDormand playing a pre-menopausal woman in an action film?), it simultaneously deals with the awkwardness of being friends with people who have differing levels of income, and, in the process, Friends with Money does not dance around the issue of dignity, which is a laudable—if surprising—quality. And, it’s not about rich people fighting. That’s a big plus too.