For all her spunk and legendary grooming, Jennifer Aniston keeps a special place in her heart for deadbeats. Legend has it that she refused to audition for the role of Monica on “Friends” because she felt a much stronger kinship with coffee clerk Rachel — the least upwardly mobile of that Must See sextet.
In “Friends With Money” — a gutsy, sardonic drama in no way related to the aforementioned TV show — Aniston (“The Good Girl”) plays Olivia, a fading, socially adrift single who resembles Rachel had she moved out to the West Coast and taken up a life of pot smoking and maid work.
Aniston's performance makes for an intriguing if somewhat sketchy portrait of thirtysomething ennui, generously subsidized by writer-director Nicole Holofcener's first-rate ensemble cast.
In fact, Olivia's friends — the ones with money — make for slightly more satisfying studies than Olivia herself. Jane (Frances McDormand of “Fargo,” hilariously bilious) is a successful fashion designer overcome by bouts of impotent rage, possibly because her charming metrosexual husband (Simon McBurney) is actually the closeted gay man he appears to be. Christine (Catherine Keener) is in a worse predicament, married to a loveless screenwriter (Jason Isaacs from “The Patriot”) who hushes her and refuses to muster even the slightest “Are you OK?” when she hurts herself in the kitchen. Mistaking a happy home for a bigger home, they're adding a floor.
Joan Cusack (“School of Rock”) is wry and charismatic as Franny, the most well-heeled and well-adjusted of Olivia's friends, and the one who wonders aloud at one point whether she and Olivia — whose high school teaching career quite literally went up in a haze of marijuana smoke — would be friends if they met under current circumstances. Never are we to assume that Franny is thinking of abandoning Olivia; some friendships, though obsolete, are simply too important to our identity to discard.
Writer-director Holofcener — who previously explored the lives of desperate female Angelenos in “Lovely and Amazing” — makes the point sweetly and profoundly, with strop-sharpened wordplay that consistently hits the mark.
This is Aniston's darkest role, notwithstanding the adulteress she played in “The Good Girl”; behind Olivia's eyes we find a deep nothingness so absolute no mere husband or bank account will ever fill it, even as she hoards sample bottles of face cream and dates a loutish fitness trainer (Scott Caan). It's the sort of haunting yet unsubstantiated piece of acting that speaks to a larger theme — that of an actress who hasn't quite found her identity.