For all the fuss that’s made about epic action, sci-fi and fantasy movies or the big-dollar star power of carefully-constructed major-studio dramas, there’s still a lot to be said for the other end of the cinematic scale - the low-budget, unpretentious character drama where the story’s more important than the stars or the spectacle. Nicole Holofcener’s Lovely & Amazing is one such movie - a warm-hearted, intimate and often very funny account of a short time in the lives of three ordinary but fascinating sisters and their mother, each trying to come to terms with their own perceived shortcomings.
Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) and Michelle (Catherine Keener) try to make conversation at a Hollywood party.
Michelle Marks (Catherine Keener) was once the homecoming queen, but in recent years her life’s felt unfulfilling. Married to a husband who doesn’t understand her, she lives for just two things - her young daughter, and the unique artworks that she hand-crafts meticulously but has great trouble selling. Her younger sister Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) is trying to forge a career as an actress, and though she’s scored a part in a movie that’s gotten her a modest amount of attention, she can’t understand why her career feels like it’s standing still. And Annie (Raven Goodwin), the adopted African-American youngest sister, is doing battle with the problems of adolescence. Meanwhile their mother Jane (Brenda Blethyn) heads into hospital for a liposuction operation to try and recapture some of the looks of her youth. Each in their own way is about to go through a transitional experience, and though there are no guarantees that everything’s going to be fine and happy at the other end, it’s the experiences that this story is about.
If Lovely & Amazing feels at times like it’s being influenced by Woody Allen, that’s not at all surprising - Holofcener, making her second feature here, worked as an assistant on a couple of Allen’s ‘80s movies and brings a keen eye for gentle humour to the insecurities of her extremely likeable characters. The cast is astonishingly good across the board, and there are so many scenes that are beautifully written and perfectly played that it’s just as rewarding on the second viewing, if not more so. Small American indie effort it might be, but Lovely & Amazing, a warm and uplifting character drama, is more rewarding and compelling than anything that’s been dripping out of the studio filters of late.
Shot on high definition video, Lovely & Amazing looks terrific on DVD, the transfer appears to have been sourced directly from a digital source rather than from a film intermediate. While the movie’s video origins will be easily spotted by those who know what they’re looking for (movement in tightly-focussed shots is one giveaway), most people will never notice that the 1.78:1 image they’re watching never came into contact with film.
Magna’s packaging states clearly on the back cover that this is a letterboxed 4:3 proposition - but happily, the packing is incorrect. The movie is in fact 16:9 enhanced, and looks wonderful. Loaded with detail and plenty of depth, the image is near-perfect throughout. There’s the occasional bit of video noise in some darker scenes, but we suspect this may have come from the post-processing the final cut went through during the editing stage. The photography, by Howard Bosmajian, is exceptionally well handled and makes good use of the 16:9 frame.
The movie is compressed onto a single-layered DVD, but aside from one instance of a slight break-up of background detail (on a very busy background) there are no compression problems in sight. Which is not surprising - a good deal of care has gone into the encoding here, and an extremely high bitrate has been used when needed.
Yep, even the indie films get 5.1 audio mixes these days, and this one’s no exception. As you’d expect with a dialogue-driven film, there’s not a lot in the way of aural fireworks, but the surround soundstage is used well throughout, with crystal-clear dialogue and subtle spread of atmospheric sound (the rear channels are subtly used only when the scene warrants it). Fidelity is excellent.
A Dolby Surround mix (not flagged as such on the disc) is also provided for those listening in stereo or matrixed surround; we’d recommend that if you don’t have a system capable of 5.1 you go for this track.
While a commentary would have been nice, not even the US release of this movie offers that. What it does offer are a few interview snippets, which aren’t included here; instead, there’s simply a theatrical trailer, letterboxed in a 4:3 frame.
An engaging, funny and beautifully written story that many will be able to relate to, Lovely & Amazing lives up to its title and is a must for anyone who’s looking for entertainment that doesn’t even think about insulting their intelligence. Magna’s DVD presents the movie flawlessly on a feature-free disc - but after all, it’s the movie that matters.