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'Lovely & Amazing'

Four leading ladies enrich 'Lovely & Amazing'

Friday, July 19, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

None of the Marks women is comfortable in her own skin in the movie "Lovely & Amazing."

'Lovely & Amazing'

RATING: R for language and nudity (specifically, a scene of full frontal nudity)

STARRING: Catherine Keener, Brenda Blethyn, Emily Mortimer

DIRECTOR: Nicole Holofcener

WEB SITE: www.lovely



Matriarch Jane Marks (Brenda Blethyn) is about to undergo liposuction. Daughter Michelle (Catherine Keener) is a former homecoming queen who finds herself, at age 36, in a passionless marriage and with a stalled career -- she fashions delicate, miniature twig chairs that no gift shop wants to sell.

Middle daughter Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) is an actress insecure about her body, her boyfriend and her career. And 8-year-old Annie (Raven Goodwin), an adopted African-American girl whose birth mother was a crack addict, says she would like to peel off her black skin and be white. Pudgy Annie is constantly hungry, trying to fill a void in her life with fat-free cookies and fast food.

"Lovely & Amazing," directed and written by Nicole Holofcener, follows these four females as each undergoes a physical or emotional change. It's a small but finely tuned movie with a steady hum of humor, neuroses, family tensions and affection.

As the movie opens, Elizabeth is posing (uncomfortably) for Vogue magazine in a black gown with a see-through bodice to publicize her new movie. The often angry Michelle is suffering rejection at a gift store, even as she encounters a former junior high classmate who is now a pediatrician. And as Jane braces for her surgery, Michelle snipes, "I don't understand. No one sees you naked anyway."

Michelle suggests to her sisters that their mother "goes through life in a daze so she doesn't have to deal with reality." In a way, that describes her relationship with her husband, who's always griping about a co-worker stealing his sales commission and who hounds Michelle to get a job now that their daughter is in school.

Elizabeth, whose real passion is rescuing dogs, is perilously thin-skinned to be an actress. And Annie seems in danger of losing her Big Sister, an African-American woman named Lorraine (Aunjaue Ellis) who is running out of patience with her young charge.

Holofcener says she was inspired to "write about how children -- biological or not -- inherit their parents' qualities and how they deal with and internalize them. Can they transcend their parents' legacy or should they simply surrender to it? I happen to think a combination of both is probably the most ideal, and I think that's what the characters in this film strive to do."

"Lovely & Amazing," which is how Jane describes one of her daughters, pivots on the power of the four leading ladies and that includes young Goodwin, who more than holds her own against Oscar nominees Blethyn ("Secrets & Lies," "Little Voice") and Keener ("Being John Malkovich").

This is largely Keener's picture, and she has a series of memorable moments, as when she's at a party and -- having driven away strangers with chatter about childbirth -- she stands alone and her face dissolves into discomfort and loneliness.

If Michelle and Elizabeth almost never spent time with their father growing up, a loss that has shaped or warped them, they move among men here: Jake Gyllenhaal, as a photo-shop employee; James Le Gros as Elizabeth's boyfriend; Dermot Mulroney as a self-involved actor; Michael Nouri as Jane's plastic surgeon; and Clark Gregg as Michelle's husband.

Holofcener creates a mosaic of moments big and little -- but almost all of them telling.

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