Film

SARDONIC AND SULTRY

Three sisters share mom’s insecurity; a carnal son inherits the sins of the father

Brian D. Johnson July 29 2002
Film

SARDONIC AND SULTRY

Three sisters share mom’s insecurity; a carnal son inherits the sins of the father

Brian D. Johnson July 29 2002

SARDONIC AND SULTRY

Film

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

Three sisters share mom’s insecurity; a carnal son inherits the sins of the father

WHAT’S THE COOLEST movie of the summer? Turns out it’s Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). Canada’s Inuit masterpiece on ice is packing a handful of American theatres in a selective U.S. release, and it recently prompted a rhapsodic essay in The New York Times Magazine. Whenever people ask me which movie to see this summer, before cautiously recommending Road to Perdition or Minority Report, I always ask if they’ve seen Atanarjuat and Y tu mamá también. They’re the best films of the year so far, and both are still playing in some corners of Canada. Between Atanarjuat’s saga of bad blood in the Arctic and Y tu mamá también’s Mexican ménage à tres, they offer icy/sweltering escapes to foreign worlds that seem at once fantastic and real.

Meanwhile, as the summer doldrums set in at the multiplex—and we wonder why there’s no hyphen in Eight Legged Freaks (eight freaks with legs?)—here are a couple of two-legged diversions from the Hollywood mainstream. Though worlds apart, they’re both tales of children inheriting their parents’ behaviour.

Lovely & Amazing is a witty but slender comedy about three women and a girl grappling with individual issues of selfesteem. I suppose you’d call it a chick flick, but there’s none of the smug fake feminism of matriarchal ensemble films such as Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias or Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Yes, each female character has a fragile ego, but the theme doesn’t crystallize into formula or facile redemption.

Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies) plays Jane, a middle-aged mother obsessed with her weight who undergoes liposuction— and develops a crush on her plastic surgeon. She has three daughters. The eldest is Michelle (Catherine Keener), who’s stuck in a loveless marriage to a husband who doesn’t appreciate her “art”—she makes handicrafts that no one will buy, such as miniature twig chairs and painted wrap-

ping paper. Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) is a struggling actress who fears she’s not sexy, and is nervously facing a “chemistry” audition with a sleazeball movie star (Dermot Mulroney). Then there’s eightyear-old Annie (Raven Goodwin), the adopted African-American daughter of a crack addict who’s developing her own complex about her looks.

Keener (Being John Malkovich) brings a dangerous edge of intelligence to all her roles. And here she strikes a volatile balance between brittle bitch and vulnerable failure. Her character becomes delightfully unglued in a fling with a teenage photo-shop clerk—played by an insouciant Jake Gyllenhaal, who looks like the next Tobey Maguire. And as the insecure actress, Mortimer has some rich moments with Mulroney, notably one bold scene in which she strips off her clothes and asks the gormless actor to review her body, one feature at a time.

In the same spirit, Lovely & Amazing —written and directed by Nicole Holofcener (Walking and Talking, Sex and the

City)—draws sardonic insight from bits and pieces of naked character. And while the story doesn’t live up to the title, this movie’s modest charms ring true.

Jan Dara comes from director Nonzee Nimibutr, the most prominent among a wave of Thai filmmakers who are attracting international notice. Based on the most controversial best-seller in all Thai literature, it’s an erotic epic set in a ’30s household. The protagonist, Jan Dara, is cursed from birth—after his mother dies during labour, his libertine father brands him a bastard and never stops hating him. The boy’s first memory is watching papa having sex with the nanny. And Jan follows in his footsteps with a string of sexual conquests, who include his father’s sultry ex-lover—played by Christy Chung, a Montreal-born Chinese-Canadian now based in Hong Kong.

Jan Dara can only enhance Thailand’s reputation as as fantasy land of erotic decadence. Nimibutr’s camera conveys tropical languor with lush intimacy. And Chung’s femme fatale smoulders with a narcotic beauty that lends credence to a magazine poll voting her “the No. 1 sexiest woman in Asia.” Unfortunately, the script verges on soap opera. The father is a villainous stereotype. And there are ragged transitions among the actors who play the protagonist at various ages. No matter how exotic, or erotic, Jan Dara’s sexual tourism is not worth the trip. lifl