Director Nicole Holofcener looks beyond the lovely and amazing parts of life

TCM will feature films from 12 decades—and representing 44 countries—totaling 100 classic and current titles all created by women. Read more about this here! 

Director and writer Nicole Holofcener’s movie Lovely and Amazing (2001) explores essential topics circulating in the media today––the never-ending fight for equality. From racial stereotypes to gender expectations, this film poignantly expresses the problems that women face (SYJ: 4/5).

Review written by FF2 Media Intern Sophia Y Jin

The opening shot of “Elizabeth” (Emily Mortimer) posing for a magazine cover reveals the film’s premise. The fashion stylist is off-camera, telling her to show off her breasts in a sheer, black top. Elizabeth complies, but expresses her discomfort for being so exposed, to which the fashion stylist tells her that showing off her breasts constitutes “high fashion.” Elizabeth’s discomfort makes her look like she doesn’t like the designer, which of course, shuts Elizabeth up. 

The story follows a family of women in three generations––the mother, the older sisters, and the young children. “Jane” (Brenda Blethyn) is the biological mother of Elizabeth and “Michelle” (Catherine Keener) and the adoptive mother of “Annie” (Raven Goodwin). Each generation has a problem with body image and pride. Jane wants to lose fat around her gut, Elizabeth is constantly obsessing over her look, Michelle has her pride and stubbornness, and Annie just wants to fit in. 

This film was released almost two decades ago, so you’d think that we would have found solutions to the problems highlighted in the film. However, the unfortunate truth is that these issues are more critical now than ever. When watching this movie, there would be moments where I felt angry that someone is treated that way. Lovely and Amazing tells stories from a woman’s perspective, so it is good that a woman wrote the screenplay. Nicole Holofcener’s films often talk about the “everyday lives of women from the middle class.” Her direction, although at times unconventional, seamlessly joins each story together to express it authentically. The film isn’t about a superhero who had to fly to a different planet to save Earth. No, it is a tale about women who need to find ways to boost their self-esteem and not care about what other people think and say about them––a common issue for many. Holofcener recognizes the everyday heroes–the people who look after each other and build themselves up instead of mocking one another and tearing each other down. Holofcener wanted to originally study to become a fine artist like her father but realized her abilities were lacking compared to her other classmates, so she took elective film classes. Could it be that Holofcener slightly resonates with Michelle as an unsuccessful artist? Her movies are filmed in a candid manner that elevates the whole experience as realistic to the audience. When her stepfather, Charles Joffe, saw her short that she shot at NYU, it became clear to him that she should look to change her career path as she had an obvious talent for film. Her ideas and style are contemporary, and she is work influenced by directors of her time, such as Harold and Maude’s Hal Ashby and Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid.

In recent years, women’s fight for positive body image has blossomed. Finally, we now see plus-sized models accepted as beautiful in mainstream media. A big theme of the film is following how uncomfortable each character is in their skin. Some problems may be to do with weight and others to do with the skin color, while there are moments where someone is just uncomfortable with who they are. The reason for all these problems is unnecessary judgment from people around them. It really isn’t anyone else’s business, whether someone has a bit of extra weight, or if one part of someone’s body is “flabby.” The audience can see that poor Annie would likely grow up to have an eating disorder. When I watch that story unfurl, it unsettles me that such a young pre-pubescent child already has to grow up, and she begins to act like a teenager. 

Overall, Lovely and Amazing is an outstanding film. It beautifully outlines the issues of body image and pride in three different generations of women that Nicole Holofcener smoothly joined together in the narrative. The issues brought up in the film still linger after it ends. The highlighted problems remain very prevalent almost two decades after it was released. What does that say about our society? It seems we have yet to accept women for who they are, and they are encouraged to second guess their worth. Women shouldn’t be continually sexualized in order to be noticed. They shouldn’t be judged for wanting to feel better in their own skin, even if it means getting cosmetic surgery. Girls shouldn’t feel the need to change their heritage and skin color. Due to Holofcener’s style of directing, where it feels more like the audience is overhearing a conversation, Lovely and Amazing helps us see the damage that is done when “expectations” of a woman, especially in terms of body image, are mainstream.

© Sophia Jin (09/08/2020) FF2 Media

Featured Photo: Catherine Keener and Jake Gyllenhaal

Middle Photo: Brenda Blethyn and Raven Goodwin

Bottom Photo: James Le Gros and Emily Mortimer

Photo Credit: Eric Mas and Alexia Pilat

Does Lovely and Amazing (2001) pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes, all the female characters talk to each other about self-esteem and body image.

Tags: FF2 Media, Nicole Holofcener, sophia jin, TCM, Turner Classic Movies, WomenMakeFilm

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