Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has made only two films, but I can't think of another female filmmaker as capable of capturing what it feels like to be ill at ease in a woman's body. Her movies, Walking And Talking, and now Lovely & Amazing, are meditations on the fact that accomplished, beautiful and intelligent women can still look in the mirror and curse themselves, wishing they were 20 pounds lighter and blemish-free. They tear themselves down, bit by bit, until we want to scream at the screen for them to stop. But we don't. It would be like yelling at ourselves.
Lovely & Amazing stars Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) and Emily Mortimer (Love's Labour's Lost) as sisters. Michelle (Keener) is a bitter, unhappily married artist who makes tiny chairs out of twigs that no one wants to buy. Elizabeth (Mortimer) is a struggling actor who may get the part in a big Hollywood movie, but only if she's deemed sexy enough by the conceited leading man (Dermot Mulroney). The women are called in to take care of their 10-year-old African-American stepsister, Annie (Raven Goodwin), while their mother (Brenda Blethyn) is in the hospital recovering from liposuction surgery.
The women circle one another, hoping to hear encouragement and feel loved, but are continually disappointed. They say hurtful, honest things and yet hold onto the fact that at least they have one another to commiserate with.
Keener has made a career of playing bitter women (Walking And Talking, Being John Malkovich, Your Friends And Neighbors), and no one does it better. She's got the ability to mock herself -- her patented smile says, "Yeah, I know I'm a bitch, but whattaya gonna do?" What's wonderful about Holofcener's script is that she gives reasons for Keener's bad behaviour, but not excuses. Her sister Elizabeth is nicer and more approachable, and even their mother favours her.
In one scene, Elizabeth gets out of bed after a one-night stand and poses naked in front of her lover. She asks him to assess her, to point out her good features and especially her bad ones. Remember that she plays an actor, and this is something most actors (both men and women) have certainly done privately as a way to assess themselves.
Yet to have it played out in such a literally naked way is almost shocking. The extent to which Elizabeth feels no shame, but rather righteousness, while asking a man to do this sums up the movie.
Lovely and amazing women can be beaten down and deluded. IR email@example.com
lovely & amazing written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, produced by Anthony Bregman, Eric d'Arbeloff and Ted Hope, with Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, Brenda Blethyn and Raven Goodwin. 92 minutes. A Lions Gate Films release. Opens Friday (July 19). For venues and times, see First-Run movies, page 73. Rating: NNNN