Lovely & Amazing Review
By Joe Lozito
Actresses beware. Catherine Keener is quietly cornering the market on self-assured, sharp-tongued feminism. In films like "Being John Malkovich", "Your Friends and Neighbors" and "Walking and Talking", Ms. Keener's characters attack with quick and sudden sarcasm, leaving her opponents mostly slack-jawed. In "Lovely & Amazing", Nicole Holofcener's follow-up to "Walking", Ms. Keener again shows her verbal acuity while also being given a sense of humility. It is Ms. Keener's finest role in a film which pulls no punches and offers unmatched opportunities for all the actresses involved.
Ms. Holofcener is proving herself to be a kind of female Woody Allen. Her films are mostly unconcerned with plot and happily follow well-drawn characters through easily recognizable situations with perceptive and realistic dialogue. The spirit of independent filmmaking is alive and well in Ms. Holofcener's work. I can't imagine most Hollywood actresses subjecting themselves to the type of honest embarrassment that these characters undertake.
Like Mr. Allen's "Interiors" or "Hannah and her Sisters", Ms. Holofcener's film follows the trials of a family with a recognizable degree of dysfunction. The matriarch, played by the always-wonderful Brenda Blethyn ("Secrets & Lies"), has her own issues as she undergoes a complicated liposuction procedure, leaving her young, adopted African-American daughter Annie (Raven Goodwin, who nearly steals the movie) in the hands of Ms. Keener's Michelle and her sister Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer). While Michelle already has a daughter on whom she dotes, regardless of her loveless marriage, Elizabeth the struggling actress can't hold onto a relationship and adopts stray dogs instead.
Ms. Holofcener's ear for dialogue is terrific, and her sense of pacing serves the film well. Still, the film doesn't have much driving it, nor does it offer much hope. It is a subtle character study. The men involved are presented in a nearly uniformly oafish light, with the possible exception of the 17-year-old (the wonderfully dry-beyond-his-years Jake Gyllenhaal) with whom Michelle forms a unique relationship.
Perhaps the bravest performance is by Ms. Mortimer ("Notting Hill", "Disney's The Kid") playing an actress so concerned with her appearance that she subjects herself to a blunt, brutal critique of her naked body. The scene is uncomfortable, honest, beautiful and unlike anything else you're likely to see this year. It is one of those moments in film when everything comes together and it is (yes, I have to say it) both lovely and amazing to watch.