Lovely & Amazing

| July 11, 2002

The Marks family is unique. Of the three daughters, Michelle (Catherine Keener) is in her early thirties and refuses to let go of her art to work a normal job, which would be fine if her art was any good. Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) is in her twenties and is a struggling actress with a small part in a major motion picture about to be released, with all of the neuroses that a woman trying to be an actress comes packaged with. The youngest daughter, Annie, is a young black girl with more attitude than her adoptive mother, Jane or her sisters can handle. Jane (Brenda Blethyn) is the Zen master of the girls’ universe, never taking anything too seriously except her daughters. All their lives are complicated when Jane succumbs to complications as a result of a liposuction procedure and her older daughters are left to care for Annie.
All these things are nice, giving director, Nicole Holofcener, a problem strewn group of women to play with. Lovely & Amazing follows these ladies as they navigate relationships with each other and themselves, with a similar intent as the television shows Holofcener has worked on, Gilmore Girls and Sex in the City. Like these shows, Lovely is speckled with female humor as well as relationship humor and all the roles are carried well and believably by the actresses playing them. We are compelled to care when Jane falls ill and to sympathize with her daughters’ troubles, but somehow, I was left feeling a bit cheated at the end.
It did not appear to be a lack in acting ability. The cast, led by Keener holds up their end of the bargain. Not having to venture far from the uptight, semi-bitchy characters she has played in Being John Malkovitch and Death to Smoochy, she slipped reliably into the role of Michelle, so far as to allow the viewer to feel badly for her, even though most of Michelle’s problems were her own fault. Emily Mortimer was charming as Elizabeth and portrayed that sister as the most empathetic to her mother’s dilemma. Jane, though out of the picture most of the time, was funny and quirky. Dermot Mulroney, of My Best Friend’s Wedding, puts in a playful appearance as an egotistical actor who has a run in with Elizabeth at an audition. A very pleasant surprise came in the form of Jake Gyllenhaal, who portrayed Jordan, the 17-year-old who becomes Michelle’s boss at the one-hour photo shop. He has a watchable, slightly rugged, Tobey Maguire quality and I hope to see more of him on the big screen.
In retrospect, I think that the problem I had was a result of the format of the story. Holofcener set up a situation, populated it with interesting people, and let them run around in her world. However, movies need to have an arc that introduces, follows and then concludes with something having changed in the lives of the characters. Lovely & Amazing drops it characters into a box where they have room to run around, but nowhere to go or get out. Once I looked at Holofcener’s background in television, it made more sense. Lovely & Amazing would have been a wonderful set up for a TV show, but doesn’t have enough forward momentum to quite work as a film, despite the solid performances of it’s cast. It is, however, an interesting watch with it’s own charms. Just don’t expect anything earth shattering.

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