couple: Gyllenhaal and Keener in Lovely and Amazing.
By Laura Leon
Directed by Nicole
Clearly, writer-director Nicole Holofcener is in love with
language, or rather, enamored of that process by which even
intelligent people misread others’ comments to play into their
own neuroses and insecurities. Her latest film, Lovely
and Amazing, is nothing if not a platform on which to
stage four incredible actresses playing four nervous Nellies
who continuously sabotage their own and each other’s happiness
by hearing only the negative, or the unspoken resentment,
in seemingly innocuous conversations.
About to go under the knife for liposuction, Jane Marks (Brenda
Blethyn) begs her elder daughters Michelle (Catherine Keener)
and Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) to look after their adopted
sister Annie (Raven Goodwin), an overweight, African- American
8-year-old. This seemingly simple request becomes more detailed
when Jane’s operation goes awry, requiring her to stay several
days in the hospital. Against the tension of their mother’s
delicate health, the sisters’ relationships with each other
and their mates come into sharp focus.
Michelle, a former homecoming queen who now makes arts and
crafts that nobody buys, sneers at every word uttered by her
husband Bill (Clark George), finding in his simple “How was
your day?” a direct attack on her unemployability. Actress
Elizabeth obsesses over her “fat” arms and undesirability
so much so that boyfriend Paul (James Le Gros) suggests she
find another lover, preferably an actor, who can be fulfilled
by such nonstop self-analysis. And Annie wishes she could
strip herself of her brown flesh, to be more like Jane; for
her part, Jane doesn’t seem to get the irony that, with her
liposuction, she, too, is attempting to makeover her own image
by shedding skin.
Told in short, impressionistic scenes, Lovely and Amazing
is brutally honest in its depiction of how women sabotage
their own happiness and success—not to mention their sense
of sisterhood—by obsessing over a perceived lack of perfection.
This is truly a women’s film in that it gives credence to
issues that are important to women, and yet it’s not exactly
a valentine. One can applaud its honesty while not particularly
liking any of the characters.
Michelle, who admits she’s got “anger” issues, is brittle
to the point that her endless “fuck you” responses to anyone
from sisters to salespeople quickly lose their ability to
evoke an understanding chuckle. Her “humanizing” tumble in
the backseat with teenager Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) renders
her momentarily less bitchy, but ultimately, she’s all hard
edges and therefore very hard to warm up to.
Conversely, Elizabeth’s lack of edge, her utter softness,
is tiring almost from the get-go. Are we supposed to believe
that such a case of low self-esteem can successfully maneuver
the casting calls required to be a rising actress? Jane wallows
in her pain and fantasizes that her lipo doc has the hots
for her, seemingly oblivious to the very real problems faced
by Annie, the black outsider in a family of whiny white Jewesses.
For her part, Annie displays the devilish trait of calling
things for what they are, but she’s treated as more of an
oddity, a cause to be taken up, like one of the stray dogs
Elizabeth is always rescuing. Somehow, we’re supposed to buy
into the idea that these characters are, individually and
as a group, lovely and amazing because of their idiosyncrasies.
No matter how in-tune Holofcener’s ear is to the way we speak
and process information, it’s a hard concept to grasp.
Top of the Waves
by John Stockwell
The poster says it all: Tan, slim, barely-out-of-their-teens
surfer babes in bikinis. And the premise—surfer babe rides
the big one—doesn’t promise much, except maybe to Baywatch
fans and Maxim readers. Yet Blue Crush,
which certainly doesn’t shy away from glistening-skin shots,
is a surprisingly well-rounded (no pun intended) blend of
adrenaline-pumping action and down-to-earth drama. The film
is set on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, and it’s the waves
that are unbelievably bodacious. The women look real.
And the surfer babe is no bimbo. Anne Marie (a gleamingly
photogenic Kate Bosworth) lives to surf, but she takes the
responsibility of raising her rebellious younger sister seriously.
She and her two roommates (Michelle Rodriguez and Sanoe Lake)
work as hotel maids, cleaning up the vomit (and worse) left
behind by high-rolling guests. They barely make enough to
pay the rent on their beachfront shanty. And Anne Marie doesn’t
party because she’s in training for a master surfing competition
called the Pipe, named after the biggest and baddest wave
in the world. Training may be a day at the beach, but it also
requires discipline: Surfers who ride the Pipe don’t always
make it back. Some of the film’s most thrilling shots occur
underwater, as dismounted surfers are pounded deeper below
the surface by succeeding waves.
Adapted from the magazine article “Surf Girls of Maui,” Blue
Crush revels in the colorful surfer subculture, exposing
its camaraderie and rivalries with zest, if not subtlety.
The film doesn’t make a big deal out its racially mixed cliques
of Hawaiians, Hispanics and whites, smartly focusing instead
on the class divisions of a resort economy. (The island’s
wage slaves jealously protect their hidden lagoon from encroaching
tourists.) John Stockwell, director of the deftly heartfelt
teen romance Crazy/Beautiful, has a way of making stock
cliches meaningful by giving his characters fresh and relevant
qualities; the girls of Blue Crush have a homegrown
tomboy feminism that keeps the film grounded. The three roommates
are amusingly scornful of “Baywatch Barbies” and the female
accessories who accompany the overpaid athletes staying at
the hotel. Their rough-and-tumble attitude enlivens the underdog-with-big-dreams
plot, made familiar by Saturday Night Fever (also adapted
from a magazine article) and its many subcultural successors.
Anne Marie’s less-than-searing conflict comes from her romance
with one of the athletes, Matt Tollman (Matthew Davis), a
charming football quarterback who overpays her for surfing
lessons. The romance may be a contrived stumbling block to
Anne Marie’s lifelong dream of winning the Pipe, but the relationship
also evidences some nicely low-key realism: Anne Marie is
aware that Matt is merely “slumming.” Blue Crush also
draws a distinction between pampered pro athletes and scrambling
extreme-sports athletes like Anne Marie, leading to some good-natured
visual humor. Stockwell gets every pound of physical comedy
out of a couple of hulking linebackers (it’s inevitable that
one of them will don a grass skirt and do the hula).
What it all comes down to, of course, are the spectacular
surfing scenes, which capture the thrills and risks of the
sport with the intensity of a National Geographic special.
These rapturous sequences of whip-taut bodies frolicking on
typhoon-sized waves go on for too long, and don’t quite compensate
for the film’s lack of dramatic impact. But thanks to its
likeable surf girls, Blue Crush is more than just a
Adventures of Pluto Nash
by Ron Underwood
Nothing in this bewildering failure is bad enough to send
people screaming for the exits. Likewise, nothing in The
Adventures of Pluto Nash is good enough to draw an audience
in the first place. It’s a mishmash of comedy, science fiction
and action, lacking the wit to be funny, the imagination to
be interesting, or the pace to be thrilling.
Eddie Murphy is Pluto Nash, a former smuggler turned club
owner, on the moon, circa 2080. Peculiar that they should
set the action in that particular year, as the film does suggest
the ’80s—the 1980s, that is. Pluto’s club has the same candy-colored
neon, post-industrial look as the joints Murphy haunted in
48 Hrs. The dance music on soundtrack is decidedly
hiphop lite, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Beverly
Hills Cop. The settings are a scrubbed-up redux of the
look of Peter Hyams’ 1981 space colony flick Outland,
with the usual flourishes lifted from Blade Runner.
The only truly modern aspects of The Adventures of
Pluto Nash are the numerous product placements.
Pluto is supposed to be wily and suave. A mysterious multibillionaire
sends a pair of hoods to buy his club; Pluto is surprised
when, after turning down the offer, the gangsters blow up
the club and try to kill him. He’s surprised when his “secure”
internet connection is traced by the bad guys. He’s surprised
when the cops turn out to be on the take. In fact, he’s totally
flummoxed by any movie cliché the filmmakers throw his way.
No one thought to write any zippy one-liners for Eddie Murphy,
either. You might think this would have had a higher priority.
One could forgive the pointlessness of the plot if Pluto Nash
were made to be in on the joke. Instead, Pluto can’t even
follow the plot.
Director Ron Underwood (City Slickers) must have sensed
how hopeless the script was, as he overcompensated in the
casting. Randy Quaid, Joe Pantoliano and Peter Boyle have
sizable roles, while Pam Grier, John Cleese, Illeana Douglas,
Burt Young and Jay Mohr make short but significant appearences.
(Mohr is hilarious as a Sinatra-style lounge singer.) None
of this fine casting helps. Rosario Dawson, as Murphy’s fetching
love interest, seems interested only in Luis Guzman’s endearingly
vulgar smuggler. Eddie Murphy returns the compliment; he’s
barely aware that Dawson’s in the film.
As noted, none of this matters. The Adventures of Pluto
Nash isn’t even bad enough to be annoyed with.