Dir/scr: Nicole Holofcener. US. 2006. 88mins.

Nicole Holofcener's thirdfemale-skewed ensemble piece confirms her as a distinctive, urbane commentatoron the life of (affluent) women in America today. An incisive snapshot ofcontemporary values as grappled with by four Los Angeles women, Friends With Money is only her thirdfilm, but stints on episodic television shows like Sex And The City and Six FeetUnder have only served to sharpen her command of biting, natural dialogueand good actors to speak it.

The opening night film ofthis year's Sundance Film Festival, FriendsWith Money should widen her audience in thedomestic market beyond her two previous titles - Walking And Talking (which took $1.3m through Miramax in 1996) and Lovely And Amazing ($4.2m through Lionsgate in 2002). It helps that one of the four women isplayed by Jennifer Aniston who will bring additional attention to the film inthe media and draw curious audiences.

In international markets,Aniston will again be the beacon of publicity, but critical favour and the factthat the film is a very droll comedy should make it a solid favourite withupscale audiences. Sony Pictures Classics has domestic rights, and SonyPictures Releasing International has international.

Three of the four women, alltight friends, live a life of comfort and wealth in well-to-do Los Angeles.Super-rich Frannie (Cusack)enjoys a happy marriage with her husband Matt (Germann,from TV's Ally McBeal)and the biggest dilemma for the two is to which charities they should donate$2m this year.

Christine (Keener) is not sohappy with her husband David (Isaacs), although the couple is a prosperousHollywood screenwriting partnership. Jane (McDormand)is a successful clothes designer and has a loving husband Aaron (McBurney) and son but is in dealing with extreme rage andfrustration with life at the age of 43.

Then there's Olivia(Aniston), a vaguely unstable women in her thirties who pines for and harassesa now-married ex-boyfriend, has quit her job as a school teacher and has becomea professional maid, cleaning houses for people like her friends. Unlike herthree friends, she can barely make ends meet.

The film follows the threerich women as they justify the lives they have created for themselves and Oliviaas she searches for fulfilment and grapples with her "friends with money". Frannie fixes Olivia up with her asinine personal trainer (Caan) who cheats on her at their first date. Christinebecomes convinced that effeminate, clothes-obsessed Aaron is gay, even whileher own marriage is crumbling and her neighbours wage war against her. Janegets lost in her own feelings of unattractiveness, potentially damaging thelove she has from metrosexual Aaron. Olivia meanwhilestruggles to make a living and stand up for herself in the face of those aroundher.

Holofcener is particularly adept at capturing the cocoonedself-absorption and blindness to others which is bred so abundantly among thewell-to-do of Los Angeles. James L Brooks tried it in Spanglish, as did Paul Haggis inthe Brendan Fraser/Sandra Bullock segment of Crash, but Holofcener's brand ofcharacterisation is ultimately more perceptive and painfully funny.

Audiences outside Californiamight not appreciate just how accurate her depiction is of this privileged andsoulless milieu, and might even consider the situations absurd. Anyone withexposure to the LA rich will know otherwise.

The cast is excellent,although ironically Aniston - in a deadpan performance reminiscent of her indie breakthrough TheGood Girl - is the weakest of the four leads, unable to make Olivia morethan merely enigmatic.

Most memorable are McDormand, spitting out insults and abuse with relish, andEngland's McBurney as the sweet and wise Aaron, whomight or might not be gay.

Production companies
This Is That

US distribution
Sony Pictures Classics

International distribution
Sony Pictures Releasing International

Executive producers
Ted Hope
Anne Carey
Ray Angelic

Anthony Bregman

Terry Stacey

Robert Frazen

Rickie Lee Jones
Craig Richey

Main cast
Jennifer Aniston
Joan Cusack
Catherine Keener
Frances McDormand
Simon McBurney
Jason Isaacs
Scott Caan
Greg Germann