Film

Friends with Money (2006)

'Poor Olivia' (Jennifer Aniston), as her friends call her, is actually poor, at least compared to them.

Friends with Money

Director: Nicole Holofcener
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack, Frances McDormand, Simon McBurney, Jason Isaacs, Scott Caan
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-04-07 (Limited release)

"Poor Olivia" (Jennifer Aniston), as her friends call her, is actually poor, at least compared to them. The first time you see her, her face is hidden and her hands and arms provide characterization: she's a maid, it's clear, as she's doing laundry and cleaning the toilet and peeping in drawers, looking impossibly lovely and awfully tanned. Cuts from Olivia to those friends of hers show they are married and well-heeled, worrying about their outfits and caring for their pretty young children. The contrast suggests that Olivia is missing something (like, say, a face, in this opening sequence).

Subsequently, she's at dinner with her friends at an upscale L.A. restaurant, listening as the couples discuss their lives and their money. Matt (Greg Germann) invites everyone to an ALS fundraiser ("It'll be fun"), then confesses he and Franny (Joan Cusack) haven't quite decided where to donate a big chunk of money, based on who needs it most. "Give the money to Olivia," suggests Jane (Frances McDormand), "She needs money." When Olivia protests that she is, after all, working, her friends begin to ask questions, happy for a way off that awkward donation moment. "Do you go through people's stuff, their drawers and shit?" asks Jane, "That would be really fucked up." Of course not, Olivia lies.

The difference between Olivia and her friends (and her friends and each other) is both significant and irrelevant. They don't dwell on it, otherwise they wouldn't be very good friends, or so they think. But though she doesn't articulate it, Olivia lives with this difference, rebelling against their hopes or expectations in her own tacit way (she collects Lancôme free samples at Bloomingdales, smoke joints alone before bed, calls her ex, a married man, then hangs up when either he or his wife answers). Olivia's lack of ambition and her vague sadness don't make her a problem to be fixed, even if her friends think so. She doesn't have to be like them, or so you hope.

The folks assembled in Nicole Holofcener's third feature (the other two being Walking and Talking and Lovely & Amazing http://www.popmatters.com/film/reviews/l/lovely-and-amazing.shtml) understand and sympathize with each another, but their friendships are slightly worn, sometimes strained, sometimes comfortable, and never in doubt. They're women of a certain age (Olivia a little younger), class, and experience, feeling vaguely or acutely unfulfilled, sharing expectations, complaints, and money, including their husbands and excluding them when appropriate.

Just so, the film uses the men as means to expand on the women, as ways to show their insecurities and generosities. Matt, for instance, is plainly happy with Franny as she is with him. They're sensible and sweet, they gossip, cuddle and have sex, vaguely argue. ("These shoes cost $95?" asks Franny, observing her child's teeny feet, poised to outgrow Matt's latest purchase. But he has a rationale: young feet need protection. And so, it's okay.) At the same time, Christine (Catherine Keener) and her tv-writing partner/husband David (Jason Isaacs) are just as obviously miserable. They work at facing desks at home, equipped with matching G4s and speaking dialogue at one another, sorting out whether a character "would say that" or not. Increasingly, this process devolves into fights, where the stake has nothing to do with characters, and everything to do with how annoyed they've become over details. "I'm bullying you?!" protests David. "We're having a discussion." Not from where Christine is sitting.

Perspectives conflict and change, they allow reflection and bring on rage. And yet they're hardly ever only right, but are instead produced and reflected by experience. If Friends with Money mostly takes the women characters' perspectives, it's not to assess men or anyone else, but to examine that very idea, that perspective is limited, and it's also what you've got. The several experiences here fit in something like a narrative structure, but not quite. Scenes cut from one woman to another, their stories expanding and commenting on one another, leaving pieces and sometimes coming together.

Sometimes, these stories intersect outright: Franny fixes up Olivia with her boorish, eternally adolescent personal trainer, Mike (Scott Caan), an obviously terrible idea that suggests Franny's repressed annoyance at Olivia is emerging, or she honestly misread the self-absorbed Mike (hard to do, as their workout sessions include detailed discussions of where he had sex with his latest conquest). Or Christine insists, repeatedly and usually cattily, that Jane's husband Aaron (Simon McBurney) is gay. Because she's Catherine Keener, and because Christine is witty and Aaron does worry out loud about how a shirt hangs on him (and even appears to flirt with men who also think he's gay), you might not question this assessment.

Then again, you might rethink your assumptions, how you read surfaces and define yourself in relation to others. If you're poor, for instance, or restless or aging, you might be inclined to measure yourself against friends who don't appear to be so. But, Friends with Money suggests, your judgments (of self or others) are subjective, based on incomplete information, and usually self-serving, even if well-intentioned.

Then again, such "lessons" are hardly the focus of Friends with Money. True, Christine comes to understand something about herself and David. And Jane comes to preliminary terms, at least, with her increasingly disruptive depression, simmering throughout the film, emerging as occasional barbs (to a woman who's named her baby "Tal": "What if he grows up to be short?"; to Aaron, "There's no more wondering what it's going to be like, my 'fabulous life.'" But as Jane finds herself unable to wash her hair ("My arms get tired") and furious at someone who cuts in line at Old Navy (such indignities matter, she insists), she also seems poised to find herself in the life she's got. When Jane worries, "I don't feel like myself," she poses what would be the movie's fundamental question, if it had one: what does it mean to have a self to feel like?

As these friends grapple with each other, as well as disappointments, hostilities, and what seem persistent misreadings -- of each other, themselves, their male partners -- they don't actually resolve anything. That, of all things, makes Friends with Money seem inspired. You might go so far as to say that the plot contrivance bringing Olivia round to having money (and a boy she likes, to boot) is so unconvincing that it's a trick, a means to critique typical happy endings. Or you might not.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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