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With: Catherine Keener, Brenda Blethyn, Emily Mortimer, Dermot Mulroney, Jake Gyllenhaal, Raven Goodwin, James Le Gros
Written by: Nicole Holofcener
Directed by: Nicole Holofcener
MPAA Rating: R for language and nudity
Running Time: 91
Date: 08/31/2001

Lovely & Amazing (2002)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Amazing' Waste

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Lovely & Amazing is an attempt to make an indie chick flick -- a Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood infused with guts and glory. To accomplish this, writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Walking and Talking) fills her story with aggravating, selfish, clueless and ultimately abrasive characters. And while there's nothing wrong with that intrinsically -- some of our greatest actors have accomplished great things while playing scoundrels -- Lovely & Amazing wants us to like these people and have a good time on a surfacy romantic comedy-level. As a result, Holofcener sets the movie up in such a way that only two things can happen: either everyone experiences a completely illogical, life-changing redemption, or the charactrs leave off in such an unsatisfying manner that we wish we'd just stayed home. Either way, Lovely & Amazing fails.

The film introduces us to four major characters: a mother and her three daughters. The mother, Jane Marks (Brenda Blethyn), has adopted a pudgy 8-year-old African American girl named Annie (Raven Goodwin), whose biological mother was a crack junkie (Annie has this information at her fingertips and isn't shy about telling people). While Annie most certainly is going to grow up into a big girl, Jane decides that it's OK to spend 10 grand on herself to get liposuction -- a hugely selfish act. What kind of message does Annie get from this? We grow to despise Jane as a result, and when her surgery goes wrong and she gets an infection, we don't mind much. (Coincidentally, Blethyn plays an equally hateful character in the recently released Pumpkin.) Meanwhile, Jane's two daughters aren't much better. Michelle (Catherine Keener) is unemployed and spends her time making disposable "artwork," i.e., fancy little chairs or handmade wrapping paper. She has a problem with tact and is fond of telling everyone to "f--- off." Her husband (Clark Gregg) is sick of her and is having an affair. Michelle eventually gets a job in a one-hour photomat and has an affair with a screwy but likeable teen (Jake Gyllenhaal, from the great Donnie Darko) who seems to have been inserted here from an entirely different movie. He's the only one having fun. Elizabeth Marks (Emily Mortimer) is a very thin but adorable actress who auditions for a part with a big star, Kevin McCabe (Dermot Mulroney). Her sluggish boyfriend (James LeGros) refuses to give her any support.

The movie's one engaging scene has Elizabeth enjoying a one-night stand with Kevin; she asks him to scrutinize her naked body and tell her all the flaws and good parts. It's a brutal scene, but it allows us to see Elizabeth as more human. She's the only one who comes out of the movie as fairly real and not just a collection of half-understood neuroses. (The characters are mainly defined by their problems, rather than becoming full characters despite their problems.) Aside from the dialogue in that one goodscene, Holofcener has mastered the art of Woody Allen mimicry. Characters talk exactly like Woody Allen characters, filling dead air, recounting their days, frankly discussing sex, asking probing questions. The problem with this is that Woody Allen does it so well, and everyone else just sounds like an imitator. I couldn't shake the feeling that half this movie was stolen from outtakes of A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy and Another Woman. Most who've seen it seem to admire Holofcener's last film, 1996's Walking and Talking, which I found to be a little too much of the latter and not enough of the former. I saw it on video, and the overwritten characters became a little too transparent to really work for me. Lovely & Amazing proves to be more of the same.

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