"Please Give" is not one of those independent films where worthy people do worthy things while dealing with their human frailties. It's also a film where the likes of Catherine Keener obsess about doing the right thing to the point of distraction.
This sets up the perfect scenario for some thrilling onscreen Grade-A cold-hearted characters.
Amanda Peet is Mary, an emotionally broken adult dealing with an orphaned upbringing that had her and her sister, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), raised by a twisted grandmother. (Dad skipped town and their mother killed herself.)
Rebecca heads the saintly route, while Mary goes unapologetically into the other direction. The tanning-bed loving Mary has an affair with a married man because she's bored, drinks too much and stalks her ex-boyfriends' new girlfriend. She does all of this with the slightest of smiles on her face.
It's not something we've seen from Peet. It's fantastic.
Peet almost gets outmatched -- or certainly out-baddied -- by 81-year-old Ann Morgan Guilbert as the twisted grandmother. She's the clear root of the family's evil. There are glimpses of humanness in this red hair-dye loving senior, but mostly she's quick to blurt out the one thing that no one wants to say. Your present sucks, you're getting fat, you've got cancer. Cringe-worthy, yes. But her character makes for exhilarating viewing and prompts the odd-twisted smile despite it all. She's just that bad.
This being an indie film, Guilbert is allowed to be unrelenting. There are touches of a human breakthrough, but nothing lasting and nothing remotely Hollywood. The only redemption we see in the close-up of her eyes which are surprisingly full of sadness. And that's the way it should be.
If they gave an Oscar, instead an MTV Award, for Best Baddy -- which they should -- both of these guys would be in serious contention. They are the best part of this film.