Lovely & Amazing
After their mother is incapacitated by a botched surgery, her daughters quietly start to unravel, grappling with some major life decisions.
In yet another independent film where the small problems of everyday people are explored (yawn), we meet Jane Marks (Brenda Blethyn) and her three daughters. There's Michelle (Catherine Keener), an emotionally stunted housewife and mother who is content never to get a job if only her husband would agree; Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), an insecure actress (is there any other kind?) who takes in stray dogs and obsesses over what she thinks are her flabby arms; and Annie (Raven Goodwin), Jane's adopted African-American daughter, an overweight eight-year-old who desperately wants to fit in. Yep, it's a film where the characters never stop talking. When Jane goes in for a liposuction operation and things go wrong, the family starts to fall apart. Elizabeth has a fling with an egocentric actor (is there any other kind?) and gets bit on the face by a lost dog. Smart move. Michelle finally gets a job at a one-hour photo shop, has a fling with her 17-year-old colleague (Jake Gyllenhaal)--and gets caught. Really smart move. Annie just wants her mother back and soon realizes she doesn't really want to be white--and she certainly doesn't want to turn out like her older sisters. The smartest--and most honest--move of all.
The performances ranged from the poignant to the downright whiny. Keener (Being John Malkovich and the recent Death to Smoochy) has perfected her particular film persona: a woman with an acid-tongued wit who vacillates between being a cold-hearted bitch and a neurotic mess. That ice princess-style worked brilliantly for her in Malkovich, earning her an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress. In Lovely, her neurosis flies high and she gets a few really great zingers in (her pat response to everyone is to ''F*** off!''). She's definitely one of the better parts of the film, but you are left wondering if there is any other range of emotion the actress is capable of. Blethyn, who was the screeching disaster of a mother in Secrets & Lies, fares better in this. She is definitely more poised as Jane, but one can immediately see how the character has messed up her daughters. Too much love and support can put up blinders. Mortimer comes off as the most whiny and least sympathetic of the three daughters. As she is complaining about her hard life as an actress, we just roll our eyes. The surprising breakthrough comes from Goodwin, who deftly handles herself with her adult colleagues and has a face wise beyond its years. The hot new talent Gyllenhaal and Dermot Mulroney as the narcissistic actor also each do a great job playing off these women.
From writer/director Nicole Holofcener, who gave us the indie gem Walking and Talking, about the lives of two best friends, Lovely & Amazing continues in the same motif, although much less effectively. It meanders through the lives of these women without any real purpose. There are some very funny scenes that can stand on their own, but at any given moment, you find yourself wishing something drastic would happen to create some kind of dramatic moment. The only real tension comes from Annie's story. When dealing with this overweight little girl's confusion and final acceptance of her surroundings, this film really comes alive. Annie seems so out of place in this screwed-up, white-bred family, and that she symbolically provides a reality check for the other characters is quite clear. Most poignant are the shots of Annie swimming under the water, safe and at peace. Alternately, the film stops cold when dealing the older sisters' meager problems.
Lovely & Amazing has a few moments that make it stand out as a good film, but overall talking heads just aren't as compelling when they don't have much to say.