Lovely & Amazing Movie Review

In the 1996 modest and little-seen relationship comedy delight "Walking and Talking," writer-director Nicole Holofcener demonstrated a preternatural knack for capturing the bonds between women with her candid and vicarious style of emotion honesty and funny, true-to-life dialogue. But her second independent film, "Lovely and Amazing," fails to find the same spark as it eavesdrops on a family of gratingly neurotic and insecure women.

Sad-eyed Brenda Blethyn, a specialist at screwed-up moms ("Little Voice," "Secrets and Lies"), is the emotionally messy matriarch, who spends most of the movie in the hospital due to complications from liposuction surgery. Doped up on painkillers and more depressed than usual (in part because her flirtations with her plastic surgeon aren't getting anywhere), she still has complaints about her daughters at the ready.

"One's really f**ked up," she tells the doctor, "and the other one isn't married."

While she's laid up, those two adult daughters are splitting the duty of watching Annie (Raven Goodwin), their adopted, 8-year-old, African-American sister who is overweight and self-conscious but seemingly better equipped to deal with life than her anxiety-addled siblings.

Fourty-ish former homecoming queen Michelle (Catherine Keener) is in a permanent moody funk, having never found a direction in life. An artist in her own mind, she creates handmade wrapping paper and miniature chairs out of twigs, and she takes it personally whenever she can't sell them to local gift shops. Pressured by her emotionally unavailable husband (who is cheating on her with her best friend) to get a "real job" for the first time in her life, she finally gives up this pursuit. Resigned to insignificance, she becomes a counter girl at a one-hour photo joint and starts having an affair with a geeky 17-year-old co-worker (the superb Jake Gyllenhaal, "Donnie Darko") who is attracted to her desperation for acceptance.

Thirty-something Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) is the world's most timid and insecure actress, so full of self-doubt that after sleeping with a big star she auditioned with for a movie, she stands before him naked and asks him to "tell me everything that's wrong with me."

The film's performances are all above reproach, but the cast is simply saddled with such shrill characters that it precludes enjoying their work. With these three women as role models, it's almost impossible to feel anything except a growing pity for Annie, who will soon have adolescence to deal with in addition to her adolescent family.

Although that's not Holofcener's intent, the longer "Lovely and Amazing" goes on, the more depressing it feels. Ultimately, the movie comes across as some kind of cinematic therapy for the writer-director -- and she has a lot of emotional baggage to unpack.


Lovely & Amazing Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, NY/LA: Friday, June 28, 2002<br> Limited: Friday, July 19, 2002<br>


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