This is a family, a real one, and each character belongs in it.


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                Lovely and Amazing is deceptively appealing.  Itís odd to use superlatives about a movie that seems to have little point or motivation, but this film that seems ordinary, is a winner.  Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has resisted the temptation to make the story seem bigger than it is.  Holofcener has handed her actors all the vivid details that make people what they are in everyday life.  No sweeping portraits here.  These people interact at work and within the family with all the quirks that make them who they are.  They are an appealing bunch of interconnected narcissists.

                Jane Marks (Brenda Blethyn) has three daughters:  pretty Michelle (Catherine Keener), aspiring actress Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer, and Annie, the much younger, adopted African-American.  All three are soaked in the pedestrian details of their lives, but it is Annie who has the real sense of herself.  Itís as if Jane waited to adopt Annie until she was old enough to understand that unconditional love is lifeís greatest gift.  Brenda Blethynís Jane is utterly comfortable with the choices Annie makes in her efforts to navigate life.  

                As this family deals with ordinary obstacles, our interest in them builds steadily, not from plot but from characterization.  These people become real as we watch.  Lost in self-absorption, they deal with typical everyday complications without much skill and yet with an endearing decency.  There is great humor in the way regular people react to each other, great restraint in an author who resists tossing explosives into her plot.

                Consider mother Jane who decides to have liposuction while her none-too-bright older daughters oversee her safety from a little too much distance.  Their lives are very full, and, after all, liposuction is an elective procedure.  Michelle dabbles in making miniature chairs that no one will buy, and her already low self-image plummets when her husband takes her best friend to bed.  Insecure Elizabeth wants to be an actress so she can hide herself in other personalities.  Annie, approaching adolescence, observes the unremarkable events in the pretty awful lives of her family and rises confidently toward her grown-up self on a wave of self-confidence.          

                The British actors Brenda Blethyn and Emily Mortimer flew at their own expense to America to make this movie, such was their regard for the script.  Raven Goodwin can break your heart just by moving a pillow.  Catherine Keener makes you hold your breath while hoping her insecurity will pass.  This is a family, a real one, and each character belongs in it.  If we never tire of their foibles, it is because they are genuinely insecure, not arrogant. 

 Writing and directing the whole thing, Nicole Holofcener gives her fine cast a heaping portion of detail for transforming themselves into very real people.  When Annie pours her love into arranging her motherís bed, when Elizabeth loses track of her baby sister, we are genuinely touched.  Ms. Holofcener has made a sweet hearted, extremely funny movie out of love and insecurity.


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