Being guilt-ridden doesn't really seem to be an issue in modern times (let's call that the Bush era to the present). Everyone's too destitute to consider the similar circumstances of others. So when writer-director Nicole Holofcener penned the script for Please Give, one gets the sense that there was a subconscious attempt to shock the film's viewers out of both self-involvement and half-assed caring.
The characters of Kate (indie film regulator Catherine Keener) and Alex (still not dead Oliver Platt), two antique furniture dealers living in Manhattan, are the ideal vessels by which to convey a concise image of self-absorption, but it isn't the glaring sort of self-absorption of someone like Narcissus or Andy Warhol. That level of egoism is saved for Amanda Peet's character, Mary, who proudly flaunts how consumed by vanity she is with her fake tan and chosen profession as a facialist. By contrast, there is Mary's sister, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) who, out of a sense of duty and as a self-appointed martyr, takes care of their hostile grandmother when she isn't administering mammograms for a living. To round out the quartet in favor of a pentagon in varying degrees of megalomania is Abby (Sarah Steele), Kate and Alex's acne-riddled, image obsessed daughter.
Abby's views are in stark opposition to her mother's. When Abby befriends Rebecca on their daily walks with each owner's dog, Abby explains that her mother cannot even walk down the street without bursting into tears at the sight of the palpable suffering and, resultantly, doling out cash to the homeless. Rather than being in awe of the gesture, Abby is irritated by it, saying that her mother should give the money to her and not a total stranger. And, in an obvious way, this makes sense. There are many, adolescents especially, who cannot see the benefit of giving money to someone who isn't even close to them. This is where the "If you teach a man to fish" argument comes in.
Finally, devoured by guilt for what she has and how she makes her living (paying far lower prices for furniture than she sells it for), Kate tries to volunteer for both an olds' home and a sports program for autistic children (or maybe they weren't autistic, that's like my go-to impairment). But this proves fruitless as well as she is told not to talk about death with any of the olds and cannot bear to see any of the children in the outreach program simply because, "It's just so sad."
There is an appropriateness to the film's promotional poster, a bleeding heart pouring over Catherine Keener as she gives money to a vagabond. What Holofcener leads us to believe is that if you think discriminately about all of the things you do, you'll see that very little of those things are geared toward bettering anyone's life but your own. And if you think about that too often, you'll be weighed down with an Atlas-sized globe of remorse for all of the people and events you can't fix.