Last week I decided to get out of the house and actually watch a movie on the big screen. I didn’t really feel like going to the large multiplex uptown, so I just went to the tiny independent theater down the street. While I haven’t gone to this theater too often, it is certainly a nice change from the multiplex. For one thing, it’s small and cozy, and it doesn’t play the really crappy side of Hollywood (although there’s certainly nothing wrong with Hollywood in general).
The film, this evening, was Lovely and Amazing, a small, seemingly unprofound picture that, nevertheless, is a very easy-going, and believable, slice-of-life picture about a family of women. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t seem to have much of a point to it, except to merely show us a number of characters, and the stuff they do....... but the best movies of this kind are able to creep up on us, not by giving us a “message”, but by giving us a real sense of these people’s habits, problems and issues. Perhaps there is a message.... but the movie doesn’t make a show of it, by any means.
The film involves a family of women -- the mother is played by Brenda Blethyn, while her daughters are played by Catherine Keener and Emily Mortimer. Blethyn also raises an adopted ten year old, whose original mother was a crack addict. All four of these characters have particular issues. Blethyn’s character is about to go to the hospital for cosmetic surgery, to remove ten or so pounds from her stomach. Mortimer’s character is an actress who hasn’t gotten much further in her career except for a very small part in a big movie, and a later rejection for a role which requires her to be “sexy” creates doubts in her head about how attractive and sexy she actually is. Keener’s character has to come face to face with certain priorities; for years she’s been trying to sell her “art”, which mostly consists of miniature wooden chairs, and homemade wallpaper. The problem is that nobody’s buying. And even the ten year old has issues. She’s black, while her “sisters” and her “mother” are white, and occasionally she wonders if she actually likes this reality.
All of these characters are interesting and colorful in their own way, and the script certainly has no bones about adding quirks and details that, more often than not, merely advance the character, as opposed to advancing the plot. Mortimer’s character has this thing about saving seemingly lost or abandoned dogs (there’s a great sight gag later on in the film where she walks down the street, unaware of numerous flyers with the pic of the “missing” dog). There’s a bit of a running joke about Blethyn’s character, while at the hospital, and her attempts to attract the attention of the doctor assigned to her case. And the kid has a tendency to scare everyone else around her every time she steps into a swimming pool, by floating face down on the water’s surface, as if dead. Do any of these things mean anything that could advance the plot? Not necessarily. Yet what happens is that we are able to feel that we know these characters quite well, and we are also lucky that many of these small events are either comical or just simply true, and never maudlin or melodramatic, so there’s little chance of cringing at anything on the screen. (Okay, it’s kind of silly to see Blethyn obsessed with capturing the doctor’s attention, but it’s somewhat understandable, since the whole point is that she’s so worried about aging, and possibly about growing old alone, so perhaps she would do something like this......)
The more strongly structured plot lines have to do with the relationship issues of the two sisters. Both of these women are in dubious relationships, and compensate by entering into other relationships which could be seen as equally dubious, but in different ways:
The actress is in a relationship with a fellow who doesn’t quite understand her profession. He appears to be a more “normal” individual... in that he doesn’t understand the obsession in the profession -- especially among the female members of this profession -- with looks and appearance. The guy basically breaks up with her with the impression that she could get along better with someone on her own wavelength -- and she does, with an even more shallow actor, who’s far more obsessive with his body than she is with hers.
Keener’s character is involved in far more problematic circumstances. For one thing, she’s married to a guy who obviously does not respect her artistic expressions (he “accidentally” steps on it constantly). But she does a silly thing herself, after deciding to get a “real” job at a photo mat, and falls for the limited but real charms of the teenage boy that works there. Although such a relationship appears pretty scandalous, the film focuses on the humorous aspects, not the lurid ones (great bit with Keener, who must be in her late 30’s, asking the kid’s mom if he’s home).
There’s one scene that impresses me greatly, being someone who has a sordid attachment to erotic sequences. Actually, what occurs is not necessarily erotic, but it’s damn sexy to me. The actress goes to the bed with the actor, and she plays a game of sorts in which she asks him to tell her all the good and bad features about her body. She gets out of the bed, stands completely nude, and asks him to critique her form. Now, such a scene as described could sound cruel, since it naturally involves critiquing body parts, for bad or good, as opposed to saying “Wow, you’re just the most beautiful woman around!”. Yet the scene as shown is not cruel... it’s kind of cute, and amusing, and certainly far more inventive than a gratuitous sex scene.
For some reason, before I went to see this film, I had this urge to call it Walking and Talking, which was a film from a number of years ago. Obviously, my unconscious was prodding me, because it turns out that, yes, the very same director of Walking and Talking, Nicole Holofcencer, has also directed this film. And the director even uses the same star, Catherine Keener. Both films are far more interested in character than plot, to the extent that I believe some viewers will be put off by the results of this film in particular. If this film were a major-studio production, most assuredly, the plots would have to be resolved in a melodramatic and/or complete fashion (considering that the movie involves heavy issues about body image, and also includes a fling between a 30-plus woman and a teenage boy). The results, in reality, leave us hanging, but I suppose that’s the way life goes. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey, or some other silly aphorism like that........
I’m giving this movie four stars, but at the same time, I think that I could see this again and give it a higher rating. This movie is so easy-going, very amusing, and seemingly without a very heavy purpose, even though it does raise many good issues, that perhaps its easy to just say that this is a delightful movie, as opposed to a “great” movie. But Lovely and Amazing is enjoyable enough that I think it could probably grow on you.
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