Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lovely & Amazing

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Lovely & Amazing is the story of a family of women and a child as they each deal with all sorts of insecurities as they deal age, body image, and other issues. The film is an exploration of the lives of three different women and a pre-teen African-American child as they all try to figure out their place in the world. Starring Brenda Blethyn, Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, Raven Goodwin, James LeGros, Clark Gregg, Jake Gyllenhaal, Dermont Mulroney, Aunjanue Ellis, and Michael Nouri. Lovely & Amazing is a poignant yet heartbreaking comedy-drama from Nicole Holofcener.

Jane Marks (Brenda Blethyn) is a middle-aged woman is set to have plastic surgery in hopes to look younger. While her adult daughters Michelle (Catherine Keener) and Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) aren’t fond of the idea as is their adopted pre-teen African-American sister Annie (Raven Goodwin). They all are hoping for the best as Jane falls for her surgeon Dr. Crane (Michael Nouri) during the procedure. Michelle meanwhile, is dealing with issues with her artistic pursuits as it’s not bringing income to her family as she is at odds with her husband Bill (Clark Gregg). For the aspiring actress Elizabeth, she is still dealing with her physical insecurities as a photo shoot for her was a disaster for her while her relationship with boyfriend Paul (James LeGros).

With Jane wants the overweight and troublesome Annie to find a positive African-American role model in a swimming coach in Lorraine (Aunjanue Ellis). Annie has a hard time dealing with the fact that she’s an African-American while her older sisters try to help her out as she would often play with Michelle’s daughter Maddy (Ashlyn Rose). Unable to get money for her art, Michelle takes a job working at a one-hour photo shop as she befriends its 17-year old manager Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal). Elizabeth’s acting career is starting to take off as she gains an audition with film star Kevin McCabe (Dermont Mulroney) which didn’t go well though McCabe thought she was good as they later went out for dinner.

When Jane’s surgery leaves her in a coma, the sisters all try to deal with what’s happening as Michelle embarks on a fling with Jordan while Annie starts to act out. With the premiere of Elizabeth’s new movie is happening, the sisters attend as they would all face their own problems about themselves and their mother.

The film is about four different women in different age groups and situations as they all try to come to terms with who they all are. With each hoping to make something of themselves, they would also face the certain realities of their own situations as it becomes harder for them to deal with. In reality, the film is a character study of sorts as well as displaying the kind of insecurities that women go through. For some, it’s a physical insecurity. For others, it something much more as Nicole Holofcener delve into these issues without going into a heavy-handed route by letting the audience figure out these characters.

For Jane, she’s a woman who is already a mother to two adult women as she is hoping to look and feel young in the surgery. What happens would force her to endure something unexpected as she also tries to flirt with her surgeon. For the eldest daughter Michelle, she is a woman who feels like her marriage is on the outs due to her unkind husband as she is also a kid of sorts who likes to watch cartoons and eat cereals with her daughter. Elizabeth is a woman with a nice figure but feels very insecure about herself as she would often take in stray dogs while her boyfriend becomes very uninterested. In the young Annie, she is a young African-American child living with a White family as she has a hard time dealing with her own racial identity while she just acts out and is becoming overweight.

The script allows Holofcener to figure these people out as they all want something to identify with while Michelle and Elizabeth each engage into different affairs due to their unhappy love life. Yet, the men they would be with for these affairs are very different individuals who appreciate who they are although they’re clearly not the right kind of guys to be with. Still, Holofcener does make them complex enough to be interesting men while maintaining her focus on the women as they try to figure themselves out.

Holofcener’s direction is truly engaging in the way she presents the film although many of the shots and compositions are pretty straightforward. Despite that lack of style, Holofcener does make up for it by being very up-front on the film’s dramatic moments while knowing when to put humor in a few scenes. One notable scene that is very confrontational involves a fully-nude Elizabeth asking Kevin McCabe what is wrong with her body. McCabe would be reluctantly honest as it is one of the most uncomfortable moments ever presented on film. It’s a moment in the film where nudity is allowed to help tell a story rather than just be a sex scene or an excuse just to have nudity.

Other moments of Holofcener’s direction involves the Annie character as this young girl is definitely lost in her identity as Holofcener presents these subtle moments where she pretends to play dead while swimming in a pool. Holofcener presents Annie as a lost child who is unsure about who she is as she would be quite up-front about everything as she curses and likes to eat a lot of food. There’s a scene where she and Michelle have a moment as Annie asks if she likes her straightened hair. Michelle reveals her answer in a direct yet calm manner as she understands what Annie is going through without really saying more. It’s these little moments of drama and humor that makes the film so much more than just a typical comedy-drama as Holofcener creates a very broad yet heartwarming film.

Cinematographer Harold Bosmajian does an excellent job with the film’s low-key digital photography that is a bit grainy but very entrancing for its simple look. Notably in the nighttime interiors where it doesn’t need lots of light while maintaining a sense of mood for the dramatic moments of the film. Editor Robert Frazer does a nice job with the editing by playing it a bit straight while utilizing a few jump-cuts and rhythmic cuts for some of the intensity of the film’s dramatic moments. Production designer Devorah Herbert and art director Missy Parker do some terrific work in creating the set piece such as the homemade artwork that Michelle makes as well as the look of Jane’s clean, spacious home.

Costume designer Vanessa Vogel does a very good job with the costumes as a lot of it is quite casual for the men and women while it also includes some designer stuff that Elizabeth wears including the sheer dress she wears in the opening scene. Sound editor Kelly Oxford does some fine work in the sound editing from the intimacy of some of the locations that occur to the raucous atmosphere of the pool hall where Lorraine runs the swimming school. The music by Craig Richey is quite remarkable for its keyboard-driven score with folk-driven pieces to play up the drama that occurs in the film. Music supervisor Amy Rosen creates a soundtrack that is very low-key as it includes a lot of indie acts like Pillbox, Josh Rouse, Elwood, and Bleu.

The casting by Jeanne McCarthy is remarkable for the ensemble that is created as it includes small but notable performances from Christine Mourad as Elizabeth’s agent Cindy, Ashlynn Rose as Bill and Michelle’s daughter Maddy, Dreya Webber as Michelle’s friend Donna, James LeGros as Elizabeth’s cynical and disinterested boyfriend Paul, and Clark Gregg as Michelle’s smarmy and unsupportive husband Bill. Other noteworthy supporting roles include Michael Nouri as Jane’s attractive surgeon Dr. Crane, Dermont Mulroney as big-time film star Kevin McCabe, Aunjunae Ellis as Annie’s kind but concerned swimming coach Lorraine, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Michelle’s teenage photo-shop manager Jordan whom she would have a brief affair with.

Raven Goodwin is superb as the young African-American child Annie who is confused by her identity while acting out as she deals with her mother’s surgery as it’s a very raw yet charming performance for the young actress. Brenda Blethyn is excellent as the humorous and excited Jane who is hoping to look and feel young while trying to help her daughters with their own situations. Emily Mortimer is great as the insecure Elizabeth who is trying to get an acting career going while dealing with her own physical flaws as Mortimer delivers one of her most vulnerable moments by going full-on nude in front of a guy as it’s a truly confrontational yet unsettling performance from the British actress. Finally, there’s Catherine Keener in a brilliant performance as Michelle who tries to find success as an artist while dealing with a failing marriage as she also has to help out her other sisters as it’s a witty yet touching performance from Keener.

Lovely & Amazing is a spectacular yet smart film from Nicole Holofcener. Featuring an amazing ensemble cast led by Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, Brenda Blethyn, and Raven Goodwin. It’s a film that doesn’t stray into conventions about women and their own issues about their physicality, age, and identity while it’s also one that is quite strong. Even if the characters are flawed but real enough for people to be engaged by. Lovely & Amazing is a rich and poignant drama that is told with a sense of wit and realism better than its creator Nicole Holofcener.

© thevoid99 2012

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