Lovely & Amazing
***/**** Image A+ Sound A- Extras C-
starring Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, Brenda Blethyn, Raven Goodwin
written and directed by Nicole Holofcener
by Walter Chaw The best and highest praise I can offer Lovely and Amazing is that there aren't any patently untrue moments in it. It's a film that disdains the hysterical screeching of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in favour of pleasant understatement and measured response--the rare movie about women that respects them while offering some genuinely funny moments based on character rather than absurd situations. Yet the picture is so lightweight that it's difficult to muster a great deal of enthusiasm in recommending it. It does what it does with an admirable level of professionalism but the whole of Lovely and Amazing is something a good deal less than the sum of its parts.
Michelle (Catherine Keener) is thirty-six, chronically unemployed, has an anger management problem, and has dedicated herself to selling her granola knick-knacks to designer boutiques. Her marriage is passionless and limping while her sister, the semi-successful actress Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), is unable to land roles and then unable to accept the criticism that comes part and parcel with that brand of rejection. A third sister, Annie (Raven Goodwin), is a black child adopted by their mother Jane (Brenda Blethyn), who, as the motivating factor of the film, is preparing to undergo liposuction under the knife of heartthrob doctor Michael Nouri.
The complexities of body image are addressed in novel and occasionally heartbreaking ways, forming the centre of Lovely and Amazing. The mother's elective surgery put up against young Annie's struggles with weight and race (in the film's only mawkish moment, the child wishes she could rip her skin off), compared to Elizabeth's shockingly vulnerable scene in which she asks an actor lover (Dermot Mulroney) to critique her naked body and contrasted with Michelle's compensatory indiscretion with a boy less than half her age (the exceptional Jake Gyllenhaal).
The bases are covered for feminine esteem: aging, growing up, being a minority, being judged based on your looks, and having sex to fill unnameable voids. Covering the bases, however, is not the same as offering new insights into fairly well-traveled psychosexual throughlines, leaving a great many moments of recognition in Lovely and Amazing but comparably few moments of revelation.
The cast of Lovely and Amazing is uniformly excellent. Keener's brittleness fits in well with a lifelong loser who, by the end of the picture, is finally confronted with the listlessness of her life, and Mortimer is frankly stunning in her courage, shining in the film's best scenes between her and her lover. Gyllenhaal appears incapable of giving a bad performance and Blethyn, whose flighty birdiness is not really my cup of tea, conveys a nice warmth from her eternal matriarchal spring. Aided by an excellent screenplay and assured direction from Nicole Holofcener, Lovely and Amazing is a film that plays for catharsis and empathy and achieves a good draught of both, content to leave expeditions into stickier climes to more serious-minded films. It's "lovely," yes--"amazing"? No, not really. Originally published: August 2, 2002.
by Bill Chambers It's not clear from the press release whether Lovely and Amazing, which was shot in 24fps HiDef, bypassed a celluloid intermediary in its transfer to DVD, but whatever the case, the film looks technically as lush on the format as the all-digital Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. I first screened the picture on cassette, and the difference this disc makes is striking, going so far as to improve the dramatic tenor of the piece. Figures are almost three-dimensional in appearance, shadow detail seems limitless, and the colours pop without oversaturating. If this is the death of cinema as we know it, sound the knell. Unfortunately, there's nothing to distinguish the attendant Dolby Digital 5.1 mix from that of countless other character studies. Extras include Lovely and Amazing's trailer plus four titled interview segments ("Getting It Going," "Playing the Part," "Making It Work," "Enjoying Each Other") of approximately three minutes apiece that alternate comments from Holofcener, Mortimer, Mulroney, and Keener. The gist of these: Jake Gyllenhaal makes women his senior swoon; and actresses have perverted the term of affection "crush." Clicking on the main-page Lions Gate logo leads to a trailer for the Natasha Henstridge rom-com It Had to Be You. Speaking of lovely and amazing... Originally published: November 21, 2002.