Friends with Money

If you put a few married couples together at a restaurant table, they’ll talk and laugh and enjoy a pleasant evening. It’s in their cars afterward, as the couples go their separate ways, that the real dirt starts flying.

Did you know they haven’t had sex in a year? Did you see what she was wearing? Don’t you think he’s gay?

Maybe if these are your friends you don’t need enemies, but I think the people in Nicole Holofcener’s “Friends with Money” really do love each other, in their insecure, petty little ways.

This group of Los Angeles friends begins with four women, three of whom are married and successful and one of whom is single, working as a maid, and overly fond of smoking pot. Her name is Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), and she used to teach high school and date a married man until she cracked up and quit her job. Her friends aren’t sure what to make of her anymore.

The other women suffer from varying degrees of lunacy. Christine (Catherine Keener) and her husband David (Jason Isaacs) are an unhappy screenwriting team in the process of adding a second story to their house without regard to how it will affect their neighbors’ ocean view. Jane (Frances McDormand), a fashion designer, is overly confrontational with strangers, a little too outspoken, and, distraught at having ventured well into her 40s, has stopped washing her hair. Her husband, Aaron (Simon McBurney), is the one Christine thinks is gay.

The third couple, the normal ones, are Franny (Joan Cusack) and Matt (Greg Germann), who live off Franny’s vast family fortune, have full-time help with the kids, and spend their days donating to charities and being deliriously happy. Obviously there must be something wrong with them, too.

Franny sets Olivia up on a date with her personal trainer, Mike (Scott Caan), who proves to be insensitive and manipulative, exactly the kind of bulldozer that a walking doormat like Olivia doesn’t need. He joins her as she cleans strangers’ houses, roots through their refrigerators, then wants a cut of the money for “helping” her.

You get the sense that Olivia was once a strong woman and that circumstances have worn her down to the meek, spineless waif she is now. I’m less sure of the history of the other women, who are angsty and neurotic in different ways but whose lives aren’t discussed in as much detail.

All four represent Holofcener’s view of the modern American woman: flawed, beautiful and goddess-like. Her last film, vastly superior to this one, was called “Lovely & Amazing,” and it also dealt with women living at various points of the self-esteem spectrum while honoring them for their natural feminine majesty.

“Friends with Money,” with keen, natural performances from the leading ladies (I’m not sure I buy Aniston as a pothead, but I almost do), is enjoyable but not nearly as substantive. It only casually addresses the situation suggested by the title — how friends of different economic statuses interact — and it feels like a pale variation on the theme Holofcener addressed in “Lovely & Amazing” (and which she apparently began in her “Walking and Talking,” which I haven’t seen).

Still, the current film is a solid one, packed with smart, snarky dialogue and a few insightful observations about the upper-middle class. If nothing else, it can help you feel sorry for poor Jen after what that beast Brad did to her.

B- (1 hr., 27 min.; R, scattered harsh profanity, a little sexuality.)