Lovely & Amazing, the second feature from writer-director Nicole Holofcener, is an American independent film about a family of women.Brenda Blethyn is Jane Marks, the mother of Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) and Michelle (Catherine Keener) and adopted black teenager Annie (Raven Goodwin). Giving Brenda Blethyn a black daughter again can’t help but conjure memories of Secrets and Lies, but the films otherwise have nothing in common.
Michelle is hardened and cynical, and wields her sarcastic wit like a blunt instrument. Her husband (Clark Gregg) has had enough; he’s having an affair with her best friend. Elizabeth is younger, an insecure and naive actress who’s just landed a supporting role in a major Hollywood film. She’s only playing the neighbour but her part is sufficiently noteworthy to land her on the poster. Her first big break has only increased her self-doubts and boyfriend Paul (James LeGros) is on the verge of walking. Meanwhile, Annie resents being black in an affluent white household, and seems headed for a serious eating disorder. Unfortunately, mum isn’t on hand to help any of her daughters this time - she’s in hospital awaiting her first liposuction operation.
Lovely & Amazing follows these characters over the course of a few days. It takes brief affairs with the unlikeliest of partners – a geeky teenager (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a narcissistic leading man (Dermot Mulroney) - to soften Michelle and toughen up Elizabeth. The film looks set to end in tears for everybody before Holofcener turns things around at the end, making an unremarkable comment about the arbitrary dealings of fate.
But it’s nice to see the women take centre stage. Lovely & Amazing isn’t especially lovely or amazing, and it meanders too much for my taste. What makes the ride enjoyable are the performers, especially Keener. Without breaking character or consciously playing for our affections, she gradually transforms Michelle from a prickly, irritating woman to someone understandable, even likeable.(The third in a series of six short takes on the 2002 Sydney Film Festival - see also The Inside Story, Nobody Someday, Making Venus, The Slaughter Rule and Lost in La Mancha)