Lovely and Amazing, directed by Judith Holofcener (Walking and Talking) is highly recommended: it helps to clean the toxins out of your system if you've recently seen the awful Minority Report. Don't go see the film expecting a neat narrative arc, though: it just kind of ends. But the details and performances are wonderful. Think Ghost World without the male menopausal bile; Magnolia without the apocalyptic pretensions; Short Cuts without the length. Stroke of genius: casting the formerly dapper Michael Nouri (Jennifer Beals' sugar daddy in Flashdance) as Brenda Blethyn's liposuction doctor. The man has a gentle voice, competent bedside manner, and eyes of pure burning hate. Blethyn plays a wealthy woman with grown daughters who adopts a little black girl; the kid freely tells everyone her own mom is a "crack addict." The stolid, Buster Keaton face of this 8-year-old, passive-aggressive Holy Terror has to be seen to be believed. In one of the running story lines, Blethyn enrolls the kid in the Big Sister program so "she can have contact with black people"; the family is outraged, however, when the Big Sister straightens the girl's hair. Artists should get a kick out of the scenes where the oldest daughter, knickknack sculptor Catherine Keener, shops her wares around various arty retail outlets: the rejections she gets are priceless. ("Fine, get out of my store," says a snotty German in a fashionable eyewear, after Keener backtalks him.) In another awkward scene, the middle daughter, a neurotic, starting-out actress, stands nude in front of a Brad Pitt type she's just slept with and asks him to critique her body. He briefly wakes up from his narcissism to tread through this dangerous minefield, in a scene women should find amusing and men captivating. (She's the "lovely and amazing" of the title.)
Some folks I know went to see this movie and evidently it met with less than universal satisfaction: Neil LaBute's rancid comedies (The Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors) came up as a point of comparison. I have to say, no way. LaBute is a practicing Mormon, and means to depict a world utterly tainted by original sin, the only fix for which is (LDS-administered) divine grace. Holofcener's misanthropy is a bit more shaded. There are moments in L&A that would never occur in a LaBute film. When the 8-year old sees her older sister mauled by a dog her pokerface suddenly comes alive with concern. The relationship between the Keener character and the 1-hr photo clerk is tender and affectionate, however doomed. In a LaBute film Keener would be using the kid and the kid would just be trying to get his rocks off. For all her sarcasm, Keener is a sad, sympathetic figure. She loves her daughter and is trying to get somewhere with her art and she's stuck with an unsympathetic, cheating husband. At the end of the film it's obvious that she, not he, is going to pay. It's not an upbeat movie, sorry if I gave that impression, but neither is it a wallow in the pit of the Godless.