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Every once in a while there’s a small budget movie that comes along to really surprise. In my time as a reviewer there have been a few gems that offered a lot more than I initially expected. Titles such as The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion and The In Crowd spring to mind as some of the lower-budget releases that have provided more than their money’s worth overall. The same can be said for Lovely & Amazing, which slipped under the radar of all but the most ardent of film fans when it was released in Australia’s arthouse cinemas some months ago. Thankfully it has returned on DVD, because the title itself basically spells out the innocent appeal of the film.

Lovely & Amazing tells the story of a mother named Jane (Brenda Blethyn) and her three daughters, all of whom lead very different and slightly odd lives. There’s Michelle (played by the brilliant Catherine Keener), once a homecoming queen and now a total underachiever, who tries in vain to sell her hand-made crafts to various stores and is in a constant battle with her husband over anything from employment to appreciation (or lack thereof). Then there’s Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), a struggling actress who is desperate to land a key role and become a lot more confident in herself. And finally there’s eight year-old Annie, an African American girl adopted by Jane when her mother succumbed to drugs. Annie is also struggling with herself, the worst of her problems a constant struggle with her weight and being accepted as a person.

Lovely & Amazing (Rental)

Sounds pretty heavy, doesn’t it? At times it does get a little emotional and intense but this is always balanced with a decent dose of humour and a plot that doesn’t try and contrive tears just for kicks (Jessie Nelson, anyone?). The relationship between the daughters and their mother is often quirky and intriguing, especially the banter in the hospital as Jane decides to get liposuction to get rid of her “gut”. Michelle is equally humorous, thinking that the best way to disagree with someone is to tell them to “f... off”. Annie demands a little more sympathy but her sheer unpredictability creates several moments of mayhem.

Credit must go to the cast, who all have difficult roles and manage to hit them full on for the duration. Leading the pack is Catherine Keener in a brilliant performance as a character who is in constant conflict with both her husband an herself. Keener is every bit as intricate and controlled as the script demands of her and should’ve been given a lot more recognition for her fine performance than she did. Mortimer is also great in a delicate role that calls for serious courage in one of the most awkward scenes in recent memory. Mortimer drums up as much bravery as she can when Elizabeth asks a lover (played by Dermot Mulroney) to pick out all her flaws. And it wouldn’t be effective if they weren’t also Emily’s faults as well.

Brenda Blethyn gives a very restrained performance, steering away from the depressed, whiny old-woman as she becomes a little frustrated lying in hospital. The rest of the cast back up the main players quite well, with Raven Goodwin as Annie and Jake Gyllenhaal as a one-hour photo clerk (reminiscent of his larger turn in The Good Girl) the standouts.

Lovely & Amazing (Rental)

What we get here is a pretty simplistic and innocent story. More of a character study than a full-blown drama, the performances from the cast make this one a must-see if you’re after something a little different. See it for Catherine Keener’s standout performance if nothing else, but my bet is you’ll get a whole lot more out of it than that.

Looking at the back cover you’d be forgiven for getting a little annoyed at another 4:3 transfer. Thankfully they’re wrong, as what we get here is a great anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer that comes up brilliantly. Word is that the transfer may have been sourced straight from it’s origins as high grade digital video and that’s quite possible given the look of the film on the DVD. The sharpness is quite good, something which often falters on compressed single-layer discs such as this one, and the colours look quite good even though the palette isn’t the most vibrant going around. In all this is a pretty good transfer from the folks at Magna Pacific.

Surprisingly the disc is afforded a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as well as a plain old 2.0 track. The former soundtrack is good considering this is an entirely dialogue-driven movie, with all the dialogue clear throughout. The surround use is very minimal which comes as no surprise, the musical score basically the only aspect of the soundtrack that makes its way back to the rears. Nothing all that special with this mix but it does the job.

Another expectation was a pretty bare-bones disc, and that’s exactly what we get. The only addition to the film is the theatrical trailer, presented in 4:3 letterbox and running for just over two minutes.

Lovely & Amazing (Rental)

A great little film that may well surprise a whole bunch of viewers when it becomes available in retail and rental stores across Region 4. The cast, led by the magnificent Catherine Keener, provide some brilliant characters who aren’t without their flaws but still manage to provide a little bit of humour along the way. The video transfer is quite good and the audio is serviceable, so for the relatively low price tag it’s not such a disappointment that the discs comes with just a theatrical trailer. Check it out and I’ll bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.