A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
The four women in "Lovely & Amazing" have been described as a dysfunctional family, but they function better than some, and at least they're out there looking. Here is a movie that knows its women, listens to them, doesn't give them a pass, allows them to be real: It's a rebuke to the shallow "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." Jane Marks (Brenda Blethyn), the mother, 50ish, had two daughters at the usual season of her life, and now has adopted a third, 8-year-old Annie (Raven Goodwin), who is African American. Her grown daughters are Michelle (Catherine Keener), who tries to escape from a pointless marriage through her pointless art, and Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), who is an actress who cares more about dogs than acting.
All of these women are smart, which is important in a story like this. The mistakes they make come through trying too hard and feeling too insecure. They're not based on dumb plot points. They're the kinds of things real people do. And thank God they have a sense of humor about their lives, and a certain zest: They aren't victims but participants. They're even mean sometimes.
Men are a problem. Michelle's husband, Bill (Clark Gregg), is tired of paying all the bills while she sits at home making twee little chairs out of twigs. She accuses him of stepping on one of the chairs deliberately. He informs her that her "art" is worthless. Indeed, her chairs are the sorts of collectibles made by the clueless for the clueless. But there is a deeper impulse at work: Her art allows her a zone free of her husband, a zone that insists she is creative and important.
Elizabeth, the actress, is, like most actresses, filled with paralyzing doubt about her looks, her body, her talent. Annie, the adopted child, understandably wonders why she is black when everyone else in the family is white, and asks blunt questions about skin and hair. She also eats too much and is already learning denial: "I'm not gonna eat all this," she tells Michelle, who finds her at McDonald's after she has disappeared from home. "I just couldn't make up my mind." Where did she learn that reasoning? Perhaps from her adoptive mother. As the film opens, Jane has gone into the hospital to have liposuction, and there is a complicated dynamic going on because in some sense she dreams that her handsome surgeon (Michael Nouri) will first improve her, then seduce her.