April 17, 2006 12:00 PM

Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand

BY LEAH ROZEN

COMEDY

Aniston finds herself among friends again, but this time her buddies are edging into middle age and toting plump pocketbooks. In Friends with Money, a meandering comedy with splendid acting but an anemic storyline, Aniston plays Olivia, the struggling bachelorette pal of three married, moneyed L.A. women. Franny (Cusack) is an heiress, Christine (Keener) is a screenwriter, and Jane (McDormand) is a fashion designer. Olivia’s decision to quit her teaching job at a private school to clean houses perplexes her friends, though they too have their problems—which even a cushion of cash can’t always solve.

Friends is written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, whose earlier films include the wonderful Walking and Talking (1996) and Lovely & Amazing (2001). Measured against those two, this latest is a bit of a disappointment. Though much of Friends is beautifully observed and funny, no one here pierces your heart the way characters did in her previous movies. But there’s plenty of pleasure to be had in the performances. The always great McDormand, playing a woman filled with free-floating rage (do not steal her parking space), is hilarious. Keener and Cusack—though the latter’s part is underwritten—show off their crack comic skills, and it is high praise to say that Aniston holds her own in such august company. (R)

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