Lovely & Amazing, writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s sophomore film, is exactly what its title promises. Set in the same liberal, artsy, affluent world of her two most recent films, Friends with Money and Please Give, it floats along delicately; the first act in particular is measured, slow even. Brenda Blethyn is Jane, prepping for liposuction and flirting with her doctor as her three daughters — Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), a struggling actress, Michelle (Catherine Keener), an unhappy artist, and Annie (Raven Goodwin), a mischievous tween adopted from a crack addict — fail to find direction. One might complain, and not without merit, that the plot lacks about as much drive as the women in question. But to some extent this misses the point: Lovely & Amazing is a story about people without a narrative, sleeping around and lashing out, looking for work and lacking companionship.
The stellar cast is what helps the movie find its voice. Mortimer’s Elizabeth begins slight and submissive, nearly transparent. Then, thrust into the role of caregiver when there are complications to her mother’s surgery, she becomes wryly assertive, keeping her family in orbit as everything goes awry. Keener, for her part, takes the deeply unlikable Michelle, mean-spirited and caustic, and lends her an undercurrent of daring fragility. The film’s threads come together in a roadside McDonald’s, of all places: Annie, tossed about by her immature family, tries to escape there, while Michelle stops in to watch her life fall apart. Their conversation, like the rest of the movie, is all implication and innuendo, but it’s possible to read between the lines and witness a family facing its literal and figurative scars. By the time Annie finishes her milkshake, the movie, like an apparition, is already beginning to dissolve. But it’s easy to want to spend more time with these lovely, amazing women, if only to watch how they heal.