Olivia's world is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, she barely scrapes by in her depressing job as a maid. Lonely and desperate, there's little in her life that brings hope or joy. On the other, Olivia's three closest friends—Franny, Christine and Jane—inhabit an altogether different milieu: the world of privilege that comes from having money, and lots of it. From Olivia's perspective, it seems as if their wealth would be the answer to all of her problems. After all, her friends have husbands and children, and, it would seem, happiness.
Beneath the surface, however, disappointment, disillusionment and desperation lurk in the lives of Olivia's rich friends. Christine and her husband, David, have enjoyed a fruitful partnership as successful screenwriters. But David's love for his wife has cooled, and she doesn't know how to cope with his growing indifference. Nor has Jane's fame as a celebrated fashion designer been enough to stave off depression and bitterness (and her husband, Aaron, is perhaps flirting with homosexuality). Only Franny and Matt enjoy a modicum of happiness, even though they still argue over how to spend Franny's inherited fortune.
Each of the moneyed women attempt, in their own well-meaning-yet-condescending ways, to help their poor friend, Olivia. Franny is the most proactive. But her "charity" proves dubious when the man she sets Olivia up with, her personal trainer, begins treating Olivia as a sex object. As she nears the end of her emotional rope, Olivia's chance phone call to a single, unemployed client named Marty yields an unexpected opportunity for friendship and love in her otherwise hope-challenged life.
The characters in Friends With Money are, for the most part, shallow and self-absorbed. They often treat one another badly and are usually unable to take responsibility for their words and deeds. They are, as goes that old cliché, "swimming in denial." In contrast to such behavior, the film concludes with Marty apologizing to Olivia for hurting her feelings. Both Marty and Olivia then admit to one another that they've got "issues." It's one of the few moments in the film where any of the characters confess that they've got problems and take responsibility for how their actions affect others.
Another "moment" comes when Jane delivers an insightful lesson about right and wrong to her young son, Wyatt. She tells him that people sometimes make bad decisions before they even realize what they're doing, then rationalize them. But Jane insists that our excuses don't make wrong choices OK, saying, "When people do wrong things, it makes the world an uglier place. There is right and wrong."
Jane is deeply depressed, but she is beginning to realize that money and success won't provide the fulfillment she'd hoped for when she was younger. She tells her husband, "There's no more wondering what my fabulous life is going to be like." Clearly, affluence is not the answer to her emptiness.
For the most part, Matt and Aaron treat their wives with respect and affection. Likewise, Marty is kind and honest with Olivia. The three wealthy couples participate in a $1,000-dollar-a-plate fundraiser for ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). They pay for Olivia and Marty to attend as well.
When Franny and Mike talk about him getting together with Olivia, he tells Franny that he's having sex with another client and asks a crude question about Olivia's body. Franny nonchalantly tells Mike that Olivia will have sex with him—an assessment that's correct. Shortly after meeting, Mike and Olivia kiss. Later, it's implied that they have had sex (Olivia tells Franny that Mike won't look at her during intercourse).
Mike buys Olivia a revealing maid costume for her birthday (we see a lot of leg and cleavage) and watches her clean in it; afterward, the pair is shown having sex in a client's bed. There's no nudity, but it's an explicit scene with motions and sounds. Near the end of the film, Olivia is shown in Marty's bed with bare shoulders and a sheet covering her torso, implying that they've had sex as well.
Olivia finds a battery-powered sex toy in a dresser drawer of one of her clients; we hear its buzz offscreen as she begins to use it. Later, Mike finds the device in the drawer and comments on it.
Throughout the film, each of the couples speculates about the others' sex lives. Franny and Christine believe that Jane's husband, Aaron, is a homosexual. To lend support to their suspicions, Aaron is shown constantly being hit on by men who are clearly gay. In a clothing store, one of these men convinces Aaron to try on a shirt (despite the store's strange lack of dressing rooms). Aaron takes off his shirt to the appreciative glances of the other man. Finally, Aaron strikes up a friendship (that has clear homosexual undertones) with another man.
Franny and Matt are concerned that their son doesn't "play with balls" like other boys his age. Matt hopes that his son isn't gay because he doesn't want his boy to have "extra gay pain."
After two people cut in front of her in a store line, Jane gets angry, gets kicked out of the store by the manager and storms off—straight into a plate glass window she didn't see. Her nose breaks and she wears a blood-stained bandage for the remainder of the movie. Christine burns her hand on a hot stove.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters use the f-word (sometimes with sexual connotations) 20-plus times and the s-word about 15 times. Jesus' or God's name is taken in vain in at least 25 instances. Rough anatomical slang for the male anatomy is used twice. About 10 other milder profanities ("a--" and "h---") pepper the script as well.
Drug and Alcohol Content
One of Olivia's friends describes her as a "pothead." After that reference, we see her smoking pot three times (in bed, in her car, and once with Marty, to whom she offers her joint). Mike finds a huge bag of marijuana in the refrigerator of one of Olivia's clients, as well as bottles of tequila and vodka. Several scenes depict characters drinking wine or beer socially. Jane and Christine comment derogatorily on Matt's smoking habit, though we never actually witness him lighting up.
Other Negative Elements
Olivia steals expensive cosmetic face cream from the house of one of her clients; she lies about going through other people's drawers when asked about it. She also stalks a married man with whom she had a two-month affair. She calls him repeatedly and hangs up when he answers; she even parks outside his house so she can see him when he picks up her phone call.
Jane has a severe anger problem, often yelling profanities at people who try to take advantage of her. Though she never acts violently, her demeanor is such that you expect her to perhaps assault those who anger her.
Christine and David's nanny apparently has as much responsibility for raising their son as the couple themselves do. David seems increasingly resentful of what Christine needs from him emotionally, and he often treats her coldly. Tension in their marriage eventually leads to a divorce.
As many movies before it have done, Friends With Money offers a take on a time-honored cinematic theme: Money can't buy happiness, and it won't solve your problems. Olivia's life is a pitiful one, to be sure. But her friends' affluence is no panacea for their personal problems. In the end, Olivia isn't much different from her rich friends. She simply possesses fewer resources with which to medicate her soul's pain. Thus, the overall message of the film is a positive one.
Along the way, however, the filmmakers' depiction of these characters' desperation is, well, depressing. Some solace is found in mostly dysfunctional relationships. But even the best interactions between these four women (and their husbands) are tainted with gossip, envy and lack of heartfelt empathy. Only in the last few minutes of this hour-and-a-half sob story does Olivia find someone who offers unconditional acceptance, someone with the humility to admit that he doesn't have it all figured out.
Unfortunately, viewers have to sit through 86 minutes of R-rated language, drug use and sexual content to get to this modest narrative payoff. Though many moviegoers, myself included, love to see characters like Olivia take baby steps toward personal redemption, I wish we all didn't have to be so submerged in the evidence of their angst—and their poor choices—in the process.