Published Jan 01, 2006Lovely and Amazing, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, is one of those films casually labeled a chick flick. But that does the movie a disservice, as it's one of the more intelligent and mature to hit screens this summer. Brenda Blethyn stars as Jane, mother to a trio of daughters: Michelle (Catherine Keener), a struggling artist who has no ambition and is trapped in a loveless marriage; Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), a semi-successful actress with incredible insecurity about her looks; and Annie (Raven Goodwin), Jane's African-American adopted child who worries that she'll never be as pretty as her sisters.
Lovely and Amazing (like Holofcener's first movie, Walking and Talking) doesn't contain much in the way of plot, but works because of some outstanding acting and dialogue that never feels forced or artificial. These are thoroughly unhappy women, each with their own specific neuroses and problems. Leading the pack is Jane, who spends the majority of the film in a hospital bed recovering from a botched liposuction. Watching her justify the operation, we get the impression her daughters never really had a chance in developing a healthy self-image. In the film's most uncomfortable sequence, Elizabeth strips before a pompous actor (played brilliantly by Dermot Mulroney) and asks him to point out all her flaws. We watch as he does exactly that, and Elizabeth's confidence slowly fades away. The other characters don't fare any better, especially Catherine Keener's Michelle. Our introduction to the woman sees her attempting to sell some artwork to an unwilling store owner. While there, she runs into an old friend from high school and is shocked to learn that she's "already" a doctor. Her friend replies, "well, we are 36." Having never held an actual job due to her fading dream of making a living with her art, Michelle is certainly the bitterest in the bunch. And as embodied by Keener, an actress who's cornered the market in playing sardonic and sarcastic characters, she's a woman who's only response to constructive criticism is a biting rejoinder.
But Holofcener just plum runs out of things for her characters to do somewhere around the 70-minute mark, and begins throwing in out-of-left-field plot twists that affect both Michelle and Elizabeth. It becomes increasingly clear that Holofcener has a certain amount of disdain for these people; her refusal to allow them to find happiness doesn't really gel with the rest of the film. Still, the film is certainly worth checking out, if only for the fantastic performances by all the leads. And when other options for so-called chick flicks include the decidedly uninspired Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Lovely and Amazing will surely appeal to those whose sensibilities run more towards darkly realistic than quirky and cute.