Lovely and Amazing (15)

Review by Simon Bell

The title's ironic of course. Because this is really about a neurotic, dysfunctional (even by The Simpsons standards) all-girl family that live in a world obsessed with looks and outward appearance and who would stare with perplexed disbelief into the face of anyone who told them they were free from imperfection.

The Marks family includes divorced matriarch Jane (Brenda Blethyn), her unstable, erratic daughters Michelle (Catherine Keener) and Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), and adopted African-American 8-year-old Annie (Raven Goodwin).

Mum's gone into hospital to have liposuction, dreaming of getting it on with Doctor; "Creative" Michelle is a former beauty queen who now sits around at home making twig chairs; Elizabeth's a budding actress who likes stray dogs over humans (even if they do bite her); while Annie eats far too much and wonders why she is black and everyone else white.

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener follows up her much loved Walking and Talking (1996) with a movie that's dark and witty, acidic and smart.

The film as a whole is supposedly a candid depiction of what women want (more, say, than having Mel Gibson wax his legs).

Keener (special) and Mortimer (momentarily very naked) are terrific of course. Both are locked in unhappy relationships and fall for unlikely suitors. Elizabeth goes giddy for a Hollywood star in love with himself (Keener's real-life husband, Dermot Mulroney), while big sis gets fruity with a 17-year-old (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has a crush on her, before ending up in trouble with the cops. ("I have a bath gown like that," she says, looking at the kid's mother.)

There's a memorable scene in which Mortimer must strip for a detailed physical critique; It's done with unblinking honesty and it's the sequence that's given the actress the worthy 'brave' tag, if only for having to hear about her bingo wings, auntie flaps… or whatever you call flabby arms.

Finally: A chick flick with a difference, that appeals to the male and female psyche alike. It's been compared favourably with tele's Sex and the City (a couple of episodes of which Holofcener has directed). And I guess for some that's no bad thing.