"Lovely and Amazing" takes its place along "Kissing Jessica Stein" as a sharp, inspired view of women's lives as seen through a female director's vision brought to life by an outstanding cast.
Director Nicole Holofcener, who also wrote the script, projects a sense of balance that brings each character's life into sharp and absorbing focus. Jane, (Brenda Blethyn) the long-divorced matriarch, adopted a young black girl, Annie (Raven Goodwin). No reason given and...none needed. Jane is both wise and vulnerable, warm and vain.
Her two grown-up (entirely chronologically and partially emotionally) daughters, Michelle (Catherine Keener) and Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) lead different lives but express much mutual love for each other and with Annie. No sibling rivalry and repressed anger from a pantheon of past slights in this flick. Michelle is a caring mother of a little girl married to a guy who obviously is tired of the union but Michelle can't figure out why. Her husband may be bored and disposed to philandering but she never figures out that his complaint that she won't work but only devotes herself to creating odd objets d'art that no one wants to buy has some merit.
Elizabeth is a stray pooch-collecting film actress teetering on the edge of dwindling starletdom. Described as neurotic, she really has a basis for her career insecurity which is exacerbated by a boyfriend whose unsupportive manner borders on clinical anhedonism. Woody Allen's frequent neurotic film persona is unbounded joy compared to this guy.
Weaving through the sisters' and mom's various dilemmas is a constant concern about body contours. The rigors of liposuction (the mom's expensive treat for herself) are realistically shown - no sugar-coated subliminal push for surgical sculpting here. The scene where a naked Elizabeth demands a post-coital appendage-by-appendage evaluation by her cautious lover wryly comes close to a truth many women admit to but only amongst themselves (I assert that Upon Information and Belief, a useful lawyer's escape).
Annie, born a crack baby, now has to deal with baby fat as her important life issue. Whether she wants to or not. She's sharp and funny and the genuine ease by which her two siblings refer to her as their sister does not displace references to the reality of growing up black in an affluent white family but it does put that dimension in perspective. This is a very lucky, loved kid and the affection between the three sisters is believable. Also welcome. And just plain nice.
All four share the trait of being able to hurl four-letter expletives at the drop of a slight. It's very funny.
The men in the movie aren't so much irrelevant as they are accessories: useful, often annoying, sometimes immature but never dangerous. Or even worth looking at too closely.
Catherine Keener and Emily Mortimer shine as complex characters not wholly aware of why their lives play out as they do. Neither can repress a refreshing optimism that surfaces time and again. Ms. Keener is an amazing actress!
Director Nicole Holefcener has a lot to say and I'm look forward to her next film.