- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

"Lovely & Amazing" sounds like its own rave blurb, but this second feature from humorist Nicole Holofcener, who made a promising debut of an oddball, tentative sort with "Walking and Talking" six years ago, drifts into mildly disappointing ruts while juggling episodes about a quartet of women with makeover problems.
"L&A;" stands a chance of being salvaged by one screwball sequence, simultaneously distinctive and prurient enough to be remembered as a unique highlight. It showcases Dermot Mulroney and Emily Mortimer as young film actors who have ended up as fleeting bed partners.
He is named Kevin McCabe and has an absurdly high opinion of himself. She is named Elizabeth Marks and seems acutely deficient in self-confidence, especially for her profession.
During an interlude of afterplay, Elizabeth asks Kevin to critique her body. He obliges, candidly, from a professional standpoint, trying to be as generous and friendly as he can be while pointing out the chinks in her armor as a naked object of beauty. It's a knowing revelation of how show-business types are conditioned to be picky to a fault.
No man in his right mind would pick a quarrel with Miss Mortimer's figure. Movie pros of either sex would. On the other hand, even nonpros might want to help Elizabeth do something to revamp an apologetic, self-defeating personality.
The thought crosses your mind that the writer-director might have thrived on a wacky Kevin-Elizabeth alliance, or misalliance, but she evidently rejected the idea of wedding the plot to her best single scene. Miss Holofcener unwisely places her bets on Catherine Keener, also the leading lady of "Walking and Talking" and perhaps an indispensable alter ego in the Holofcener scheme of romantic farce.
Miss Keener makes herself a nuisance on short acquaintance as Elizabeth's sister, Michelle, a chronic bellyacher with even dimmer professional prospects because she specializes in sculpting ultrafragile miniature knickknacks.
Michelle's prop craftwork has a flimsy comic effectiveness, but the character herself remains a maddening knickknack. Despite severe temperamental differences, the sisters appear to share a weakness for infidelity.
Elizabeth is deceiving a consort named Paul (James LeGros) about her opportunistic fling with Kevin, obviously a believer in the casting-couch tradition. Estranged from her spouse, Michelle drifts into a shameful tryst with the teenager, Jake Gyllenhaal as Jordan, who man-ages a one-hour photo shop and hires her as a part-timer.
Coincidentally, Brenda Blethyn, largely squandered as the solicitous mother who resents sorority girl Christina Ricci for consorting with her teenage boy in "Pumpkin," gets wasted in a different way while playing Jane Marks, the mother of Michelle and Elizabeth. If Miss Blethyn isn't between agents, perhaps she should be. Debbie Waldman is cast as an astonishing specimen in "L&A.;"
Mrs. Marks, a woman of means, has exaggerated hopes for a liposuction operation: She anticipates both a slimmer figure and a romance with the surgeon, played by Michael Nouri. This preoccupation magnifies her neglect of an adopted daughter named Annie (Raven Goodwin), who happens to be black, chubby and adolescent.
Are we being encouraged to scorn Jane for ignoring Annie's preoccupations with hair straightening, complexion lightening and pigging out? If you like, but the setup appears so bogus and grotesque that it's difficult to take anyone's hang-ups or crises in earnest.
Miss Holofcener also stoops to a life-threatening crisis in the wake of Jane's operation. In a context this slack and facetious, you would just as soon forget that an actress as formidable as Brenda Blethyn is being miscast. You would prefer to see her with a sound comic role, under superior comic management.

* 1/2


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