Friends with Money finds dark humor in interactions between Los Angelenos from different economic strata. The central characters are four privileged white women: clothing designer Jane (Frances McDormand), screenwriter Christine (Catherine Keener), philanthropist and stay-at-home mom Franny (Joan Cusack), and maid Olivia (Jennifer Aniston). The film’s narrative arc is secondary to its episodic economic encounters.
Olivia, who quit her job at a private school in response to her wealthy students giving her quarters for groceries, tells Franny’s Latina housekeeper that she does the same job. Both women clean houses, but their situations could not be more different. Franny, concerned that the trampoline in their yard could be dangerous for their child, suggests the maid would take it. Her husband says that then it’s the maid’s kids who’d get paralyzed.
Sex and money are intertwined. Jane says she’d have more sex if, like Franny, she didn’t have to worry about money. A date buys Olivia a “French Maid” outfit to wear, as foreplay, while cleaning a client’s house.
Christine and her husband add a second floor to their home to get an ocean view from the master bedroom. Christine panics when she “discovers” the construction obscures the view of a similarly privileged neighbor who has shunned her. Without regard for how the loss of work will affect their lives, she tells the Latino construction crew to stop working.
Jane, who says about the clothing she designs, “I know it’s overpriced, but it has to be,” throws a fit at Old Navy when someone cuts in line.
The film ends with a deus ex (cash) machina. Olivia starts dating a former client—a nice slob with no obvious source of income—who, it turns out, has inherited a fortune. She reminds him that he’d asked her to reduce her rate. He blushes. “I have some issues.” Olivia responds, “That’s okay. I got problems.”
These encounters are recognizable to me—a privileged white man living in southern California. The discomfort of this recognition draws me to the film like a chipped tooth draws my tongue or a hangnail entices me to pick it until it bleeds.
Jim Stoicheff is an artist and tech drone who grew up in northern Idaho and now lives in Santa Barbara, California.