‘Lovely and Amazing’ is a little bit of both

Sappy sad chick flicks generally generate little more than groans from most of their audiences, with die-hard genre lovers fawning magical and waxing wonderful over the cinematic poetic justice coughed toward viewers as the credits roll. Director and writer Nicole Holofcener (HBO’s “Sex in the City (1998)” and “Walking and Talking”) tries desperately to avoid the tired clichÇs of the genre.

Her characters aren’t burdened with flamboyance or over-arched boredom – instead of using extremes as films often do, Holofcener draws her characters down the center and away from the oft fantastical females of other chick-flicks. The women of “Lovely and Amazing” are instead inherently flawed, and it is on those flaws that the movie focuses and eventually champions.

The film’s story centers simply enough on a mother and her three daughters. Matriarch Jane Marks (Brenda Blethlyn) has countered the empty nest syndrome through a collection of pillows and her adoption of the daughter of a crack addict. Raven Goodwin’s role as the chubby black daughter of Jane Marks is comical enough in that viewers often see a pair of skinny white women with a stout black kid, easily 15 years their junior and referring to her as their ‘sister.’ Although to the film’s discredit one can only handle so many Big Brother/Big Sister foundation jokes.

Eldest child Michelle Marks (Catherine Keener) is a regressive juvenile, entrenched in her own absorbed little world filled with explanations of her own natural child birth – the only thing remotely parental she’s ever done – and obsesses over her inept art, comprised of useless items found in most grandparents’ basements. While her adoration of herself is her greatest fault, the former prom queen’s sister Elizabeth Marks has a different batch of problems entirely.

Elizabeth Marks (Emily Mortimer) is an actress, a seemingly typical actress with typical concerns about her looks, which should be atypical, but are in reality, relatively typical. Elizabeth’s insecurities about her looks are her greatest burden;her somewhat distorted body image leads her to ask for fellow actor Kevin McCabe (Dermot Mulroney) who she has just bedded, to critique her body. The ensuing scene is horribly comedic and equally horrific to watch as Marks’ flaws are spread before viewers like the rest of her body is in the scene. Juxtaposed with not loving herself, Elizabeth has a very open affection toward dogs; her obsession with stray dogs extends so far as to lead her to pluck any dog off the street that simply looks abandoned.

The elder marks sisters experience abandonment in their own respects, only instead of pups left on the lawn, the women experience some exonerated separations from the male of the species. Michelle Marks’ obsessions with herself drive her husband to working long hours and eventually working on her best friend for overtime. She is shown repeatedly getting into bed with her daughter, who, mind you, she brought into this world without the aid of chemicals. Somewhat thanklessly, the film avoids stereotypes when it shows Michelle Marks budding interest in her boss at the one-hour photo, the 17 year old Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal). The relationship certainly isn’t condoned in the film, but it is refreshing to see an older women committing statutory rape, rather than a man as is always the case.

The trials of Michelle aren’t paralleled in the younger Elizabeth Marks – instead of her elder’s self absorption, Elizabeth suffers from poor self-esteem a poor self-esteem that drives her beginning of the film boyfriend Paul (James LeGros) away completely.

Holofcener’s women are decidedly realistic. From the mother’s desperate reach for youth through cosmetic surgery, affectionate rationalization and adoption of a child, to the sister’s own inabilities and difficulties to establish and maintain relationships of their own, “Lovely and Amazing” truly traces a dysfunctional family functioning. It does so with fairly representing the women and their flaws and praising them for their humanity rather than condemning them for their illicit behaviors and personal hang-ups.

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