Lovely & Amazing
2001, R, 91 min. Directed by Nicole Holofcener. Starring Catherine Keener, Brenda Blethyn, Emily Mortimer, Raven Goodwin, Dermot Mulroney, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Le Gros.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 19, 2002
Every child is entitled to a parent's unconditional love, to grow up feeling lovely and amazing. Yet neuroses and self-doubt have a way of creeping in, perhaps a result of the modern condition, perhaps a result of the mind working overtime or maybe not working up to its possibilities. Whatever the root of this modern malaise, these self-esteem and confidence issues have special resonance in the lives of American women, particularly for the generations caught between getting all that they thought they wanted but then discovering themselves still wanting -- or lacking. Holofcener's Lovely & Amazing dives headfirst into these nebulous waters with its portrait of a family of women and the self-doubts that gnaw at these undeserving hosts. Rather than another ya-ya chick flick that talks out of both sides of its mouth, Lovely & Amazing is a sharp, articulate study of why we say some of the things that we do and how our words and actions can be (mis)perceived by others. It's a movie that comes to life often through its most silent moments, moments that nevertheless speak volumes to the audience. First-rate performances are necessary to convey the film's subtleties, and in that Lovely & Amazing succeeds all around. Keener and Mortimer play grown sisters, Michelle and Elizabeth. Michelle, a former homecoming queen, is now 36 years old, married, and a mother, who also half-heartedly tries to turn her art hobbies into a marketable career. Mortimer is an actress whose constant concerns about her appearance would seem utterly neurotic if they were not rooted in the harsh reality of our image-based media machinery. Michelle and Elizabeth are the daughters of Jane (Blethyn), a woman who has raised them as a single mother and has recently adopted a young black girl named Annie (Goodwin) as her daughter. The story gets going as Jane undergoes liposuction to rid herself of her middle-age flab, and leaves Annie in the care of her two grown sisters. Something goes wrong with the procedure and Jane is hospital-bound for a few days while Michelle and Elizabeth take on the task of looking after Annie, who also spends time with a black Big Sister in order to spend time with people of her own race. Born to a crack addict, Annie perhaps inherited some of her social problems through her DNA, but the mixed messages she receives from all the grown women around her further muddies her development. Lovely & Amazing has few other plot points, and in this the movie resembles Holofcener's previous film Walking and Talking, a movie starring Keener and Anne Heche as best friends who are becoming distanced by one's upcoming marriage. The similarly constructed titles are certainly no accident: Both films are perambulating works that circle their subject matter rather plowing it in a straight line. It's both the strength and weakness of both films. There is an incomparable realism in both films that honestly reflects the way that women -- and people -- talk and interact in life. Lovely & Amazing also raises questions of racial difference in ways that few modern films even touch or ponder. Although the movie leaves the viewer with an incomplete sense of these characters and their story, it seems more the feeling you have when reaching the end of a good book: You simply want the story to go on and on. Let's hope that Holofcener's movies do: Her peregrinations through the lives of contemporary women know few screen equals.