Lovely and amazing - Brenda Blethyn, Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, Nicole Holofcener
Threat advisory: Guarded - General risk of entertaining activities
If you're hoping for the perfect family don't hold your breath.
Jane Marks (Brenda Blethyn) is the matriarch of a confused trio of daughters that seems to have nothing in common, except for a peculiar sort of idealism - a heady brew of vanity, insecurity and humour. Former homecoming queen Michelle (Catherine Keener), the eldest daughter, is in a loveless marriage with a spouse who does not appreciate her decidedly obscure artistic endeavours. Younger sister Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), an insecure actress whose career is beginning to take off, compulsively takes home stray dogs, saving them whether or not they need to be saved.
Only the youngest sister, Annie (Raven Goodwin), an adopted African-American 8-year-old, stands a chance at rising above the family's legacy. But on the threshold of what promises to be a confusing adolescence, Annie has developed a preoccupation with her appearance - natural enough for a pre-teen, but given her adoptive family's history, quite possibly a hint of what's to come for the newest member of the Marks family.
Each of the women seeks redemption in her own haphazard way, but whatever salvation they find is illusory and short-lived. When complications from cosmetic surgery threaten Jane's well-being, the family of comically self-absorbed women must quickly find room for each other in their lives to offer comfort and strength.
Theatrical propaganda posters
Target demographic movie keyword propaganda
- Film drama family UK adoption matriarch mother daughters
Persons of interest
- Brenda Blethyn .... Jane Marks
- Catherine Keener .... Michelle
- Emily Mortimer .... Elizabeth
- Raven Goodwin .... Annie
- Aunjanue Ellis .... Lorraine
- Clark Gregg .... Bill
- Jake Gyllenhaal .... Jordan
- James Legros .... Paul
- Michael Nouri .... Doctor Crane
- Dermot Mulroney .... Kevin McCabe
- Nicole Holofcener .... Screenwriter
- Nicole Holofcener .... Director
Cinematic intelligence sources
- Awards and film festivals:
- Telluride Film Festival 2002: Screening
- Interview with Nicole Holofcener
- Studios and distributors:
Agent Provocateur Alexander Feld
It has been said that George Cukor's legendary The women (1939) marked the birth of the "chick flick". The genre has its most recent entry in Nicole Holofcener's Lovely and amazing. Like many of its predecessors, this film succeeds in presenting a world where men are either marginalised or eliminated. Where it does not succeed is making us empathise with any of these women, or the total mess that they make of their lives. Cukor's characters, derived from Clare Booth Luce, can be viewed today like some paleozoic drag banter; Holofcener's women seem derived from some mish-mash of Oprah, post-feminist angst and All my children.
This mess begins with the appearance of Jane Marks (Brenda Blethyn, here playing a well-fed Californian with her customary skill), a divorced mother of three very different daughters, preparing for Lipo. Two of the daughters are physical (if not mental) adults, Michelle (Catherine Keener) and Elizabeth (the fine Emily Mortimer). Bringing up the rear is Annie, Jane's newly adopted black daughter, whose biological mother is/was a crack addict, and who is eight years old. The liposuction proves complicated, and while Jane recuperates the drama centres on how the adult daughters fare without their mother, with the prosect of losing her, and with caring for their younger, troubled sister.
Michelle is an "artist" who spends her time creating meaningless knick-knacks to fill LA's myriad gift shops. Several vendors wisely reject her (for example) hand-painted wallpaper, and she often storms out in foul-mouthed rages. Her increasingly alienated and ignored husband, Bill (Clark Gregg), who installs top-end personal sound systems, furious at her refusal to contribute to their family income or get some grip on reality.
They have a young daughter whose delivery, by a painful natural childbirth, has provided Michelle - the fallen Homecoming Queen, incidentally - with her principal topic of self-obsession. She eventually takes a job in a one hour photo shop, and screws that up by responding to the adolescent libido of her boss, gangly 17-year-old Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal, this year's Tobey Maguire). She is vulnerable enough to his flattery and angry enough at her husband and at life to respond.
Elizabeth Marks is an actress, or someone attempting to get cast. The film opens with a photo shoot, showing her in a louche dress exposing her nipples, revealing her insecurities in the opening lines. Later, rejected for lack of sex appeal for a part in a soap with the handsome, vain Kevin McCabe (Dermot Mulroney) Elizabeth allows him to seduce her. Afterward, in the films most interesting scene, she demands to pose nude so he can deliver a tooth to toe rap sheet on her physical imperfections.
The scene is superbly played and almost painful to watch. Where he wants to praise her modest charms and looks, Elizabeth cajoles him to find greater and greater flaws. Drained, he responds that he too is unhappy with his body, his trainer has encouraged bulk instead of lean hard muscle. These two deserve each other. (I'll be fascinated to see what post-post feminist film critics make of this scene one generation from now.)
As the film plods along, Michelle gets herself into an ugly mess with her boss, Elizabeth breaks with her steady boyfriend Paul, and Annie, clearly absorbing more and more of the Mark's neuroses, grows fatter and fatter. Sassy, smart and dry, Ms Goodwin's performance here is one of the few joys of the pic; one hopes we see more of this talented young actress.
Nicole Holofcener has directed many episodes of the cannonical Sex and the city. This is a challenge to credulity, as nearly all of the energy, verve, wit, polish and insight signifying that show are absent here. The dialogue is indeed intelligent, and it is well-tuned to the banter of women's relationships, but more profound issues affecting women seem to be addressed in a half hour episode of SATC than in this ninety-minute chunk of cinema. Although at times smart, observant and candid, plot lines soon thin out, smaller characters are reduced to gross caricature, and the overall feel of the film seems, at times, downright amateurish.
Lovely and amazing is neither.
Media intelligence (DVD)
- Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
- Languages: English
- Picture: Widescreen 1.85:1
- Special features:
- Subtitles: English
Security censorship classification
M (Medium level coarse language, adult themes)
87 minutes (1:27 hours)
Not for public release in Australia before date
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Your debut took five years to make. How long did it take to get this one off the ground and how was the process different this time around?
Thankfully, this movie only took a couple of years to get going, although it still wasn't easy. When I showed the script to Ted Hope and Anthony Bregman, they responded to it immediately and unlike with Walking and talking, they had very little notes. It didn't go through a million rewrites - we started sending the script out right away. Blow Up Pictures became interested, offered us a budget to shoot it on digital video and from that point, Eric d'Arbeloff came on as producer. He pulled together a great crew and got the movie actually going.
Was there a specific inspiration for the film and the themes you explore in it?
I was inspired to write about how children (biological or not) inherit their parent's qualities and how they deal with that fact. Can they transcend their parent's 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 the film strive to do.
I was also inspired by women's obsession with weight and appearance (not mine, of course) and how much time that actually takes up in our lives. How intelligent women with full lives will focus on these things even as they acknowledge how unimportant they are. For the most part, how they look is the least of their problems, yet that becomes the focus of their attention.
I also really like the subject of family and how we make the most out of what we've got. Our siblings might be nuts, our mothers might drive us crazy, but we love them nonetheless and would do anything for them. And just because we're all grown up doesn't mean we behave accordingly. The character of Michelle has a true sibling rivalry with Annie, even though she's about thirty years older.
How did the cast come together?
I had written the part of Michelle for Catherine, and Brenda Blethyn was my first choice for Jane. I couldn't believe it when she said yes. We hadn't met but she liked the script and agreed to do it. I had no idea how I was going to find an Elizabeth. I had auditioned a lot of great actors but didn't feel like I found the right person yet and I asked Brenda, kind of in passing, if she could recommend someone. She had just worked with Emily Mortimer in a movie and suggested her. Emily came to audition and I instantly fell in love with her. But here I was with two Brits who were supposed to play an American mother and daughter. It was kind of terrifying going ahead with them but they were so right for the roles. They worked with a voice coach and got the American accent down perfectly.
I had always thought that Dermot Mulroney would make a Kevin - he's got a great sense of humour and is clearly gorgeous enough. I asked him a million years ago if he'd do the part and he wouldn't commit. Finally, he did, and I was thrilled.
Jeanne McCarthy, the casting director, brought in Jake Gyllenhaal - she has great taste and really understood the script. He came in with this big pouf of hair and his big blue eyes and I was sold. He was sexy but awkward - the perfect combination for the role of Jordan. He had to be young and gawky enough so that we feel the affair is weird and uncomfortable, yet he had to be just manly enough so it would believable.
With this film, you maintain your skill at sculpting really great moments - as a writer with your dialogue and as a director with your actors - such that people often think that your movies are largely improvisational. How much of this film is on the page and how do you work with your actors on capturing these intimate moments?
The finished film is very much like the script. A few lines were changed but generally it's the same. With Walking and talking, we changed a lot more as we were filming, and I wouldn't wish that kind of stress on anyone. This script held together a lot better and thankfully needed a lot less fixing.
I'm generally very open to improvisation but not while the camera is rolling. We'll improvise in rehearsal and if something great comes from that, I'll incorporate it into the script. Rehearsal for this film was minimal. We got together a few times, read all the scenes, discussed them, blocked them out a bit. It was really just a chance for all of us to get comfortable with each other. But if something sounded weird or just didn't work, we would talk about it and figure out a better way to say it. The actors were so funny and smart, and if they had a suggestion about something, I would usually use it.
People really respond to your rather unconventional narrative style - your character-driven approach. As a writer and a filmmaker, this is a choice you continue to make - could you tell us a little about this decision?
If I were to come up with some beautiful structure that involved a more traditional plot, I would use it. This style is just what comes naturally to me. I love ensembles and they seem to just structure themselves. When I was writing this, I let the characters tell me what to do next. I don't mean this in some airy-fairy way, just literally. What would be fun to see happen to them? What would make their world really fall apart? Everything came together very intuitively and it even had the right page length when I was finished (and that's nothing to sneeze at).
Michelle's artwork - who made it and did you have an idea of what it would look like when you were writing the script or did that happen when you were preparing for the shoot?
Michelle's artwork was inspired by someone I know. She made little chairs from twigs with tiny birds and eggs. They were amazing, but we didn't have enough of them to use in the film. So in the end, the production designer, Devorah Herbert, stayed up a couple of nights and made some of her own - one more extraordinary than the next. It was hard to choose which ones would end up on screen.
When I was a teenager, I painted pictures and wrote poetry on them and would go around to stores to try to sell them. They were the corniest things on earth but they sold. I had them in three or four stores. I remember that feeling so well - laying out my wares for some mean salesgirl. I guess that's what inspired that part of the character.
How did shooting on digital compare to shooting on film? Did shooting on digital make the process more intimate or was it essentially the same?
We opted to go with 24-frame high definition video because the tests that we did looked really beautiful, and frankly, the most like film. Shooting on digital video was essentially the same as shooting on film, for me. It took just as much time to light and the crew was enormous. I remember when one of my producers told me the crew would be skeletal because it was video. I was thrilled. Then I looked at our first call sheet and it read: Lunch for 60. It just seemed to grow. And we needed every single person who showed up. I didn't "relax" (if that's even possible on a shoot) because it wasn't film - I didn't do more takes or rehearse more on the set. Basically, the day is only so long and the pressure to make the day is the same. If I wasn't getting what I needed, I would keep going. If I got it, I would move on. I didn't do more takes because it was "only on video" - and if I was shooting on film and wasn't getting what I needed, I wouldn't stop because film is expensive. So, basically, except for the fact that we didn't have to check the gate, it was pretty much the same.
You recently directed an episode of Sex and the city - did that experience have any impact on your work?
All practice is good, especially when the material is as good as Sex and the city.