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the pathetic caverns - movies by title - Lovely & Amazing

eclectic reviews and opinions

Lovely & Amazing

2001, D & S: Nicole Holofcener

I remember liking Nicole Holofcener's writer/director debut, Walking & Talking, without being able to remember much about it specifically, but either Lovely & Amazing doesn't display the same qualities, or I've changed too much in the intervening years. Despite the presence of some top-notch talent, Lovely & Amazing is, well, neither lovely nor amazing. It's entirely too predictable, and its strongest moments are ugly.

It's the story of a woman and her three daughters, the last by adoption, and of an age to be her grand-daughter. Mom (Brenda Blethyn) spends the flick in the hospital getting liposuction, with complications. Daughter One (Emily Mortimer) is an actress who's almost terminally insecure: as she stands silhouetted in a window her mother tells her that she's lovely and amazing, but when she stands in a dark room, in the movie's gutsiest, and least pleasant scene, a shallow Hollywood star catalogs everything he perceives wrong with her nude body: her vagina is too hairy, her breasts sag, her arms are flabby. Daughter Two (Catherine Keener) is even more of a mess: she's managed to get married (badly) but her art finds no takers and she's never essayed a career. Her disregard of the consequences of her actions is more than immature; it's on the border of sociopathic. Daughter Three (Raven Goodwin), unlike the other two, is an awkward, chubby, adopted young teen, thoroughly conflicted, and very unhappy about being shuttled between her step-sisters while Mom is out of commission. Her truculence is believable in a sort of child psychology textbook kind of fashion.

The film founders between the different things it might achieve, but doesn't. None of the women (or their male partners, an even sadder lot) are very likable, and it's difficult to muster a lot of emotional interest in their plights.

On the other hand, it's not quite barbed or amped-up enough to be effective as satire. It has some funny moments, but not nearly enough to be succesful as a comedy. It threatens at times to veer into utter aftershcool-special sappiness (the obtrusive use of incidental music which over-telegraphs events of import contributes to this problem), but ultimately avoids pat resolution. That helps steer it away from the worst of its melodramtic excesses, but it also means there's no clear sense at the end of the film that the women have really learned much from the assorted mistakes they made during the film (they make few, if any, solidly good choices).

In the old days, I awarded a bonus star for any movie that didn't have any guns: well, check, one gold star. Holofcener has a good ear for naturalistic dialog and her characters are credible. There's enough plot tension to keep the viewer awake. What the film is lacking is some sort of thematic point. I think it was supposed to be in the tension between the two views of Elizabeth: beautiful when she's suffused in her mother's love, dissected like a chicken by a supposed lover. But it doesn't have enough focus, or enough anger, to pull that off. And if the point was supposed to be that the women themselves were lovely and amazing, any more than any human being is lovely and amazing, I really don't think it made its case.

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