With Lovely and Amazing, writer-director Nicole Holofcener revisits the themes and personalities she deftly examined in her feature debut, Walking and Talking, this time turning her sharp eye on how parental neurosis can affect the lives of children long after they’ve left the nest.
In this case, the screwed-up parent is Jane (Brenda Blethyn), a single mother of two grown daughters, Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) and Michelle (Catherine Keener), as well as a young, adopted, black girl, Annie (Raven Goodwin). Unconcerned about how it might affect her overweight youngest daughter, Jane elects to undergo liposuction. When complications ensue, it’s up to Michelle and Emily to care for Annie while their mother recuperates. But neither sister is up to the task; having been exposed to their mother’s idiosyncrasies for so long, both have developed their own set of dysfunctions, which render them ill-equipped for any type of real responsibility.
To call these women unbalanced would be a severe understatement. Their inherited quirks have affected their lives in ways that sometimes parallel that of their mother and sometimes contradict it. Elizabeth’s complete lack of self-esteem manifests itself in her submissive relationship with her pragmatic boyfriend and, more significantly, her failure as an actress. Her masochism runs so deep that after sex, she likes to stand naked before her partner and have him list all of her physical imperfections. For Michelle, a loveless marriage and failure as an artist have only increased the frustration and hostility she’s harbored her entire life. Blunt, crude and dismissive, her oft-repeated mantra to everyone and everything around her is a resounding “fuck off”.
Once again, Holofcener creates realistic characters and circumstances and exaggerates them just enough to make them entertaining without rendering them unbelievable. She also imbues each character with enough humility to make them sympathetic, despite their numerous flaws. She’s aided in this regard by the superb performances delivered by the entire cast, especially Keener, who gives a wickedly caustic performance guaranteed to elicit guffaws from even the most impassive audiences. Understated yet quite moving, the film carefully balances the humor of the situations in which these women find themselves with the anguish each feels as a result of their circumstances. A family of women at the zenith of their personal turmoil, each struggles to escape the legacy of their inherent psychoses. Sadly, they never actually learn the lessons they should, with results that are equally painful and hilarious.