Culture » Film

Video Feast Among Film Famine



*Donnie Darko (R)
20th Century Fox Home Video

*Lovely & Amazing (R)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment

The post-Thanksgiving week turned out to be one of the worst weeks for movie releases this year, so for solace we turned to the video market, in search of titles that never made it to Colorado Springs theaters. (If, in fact, either of these films played in Springs theaters, the run was too short to make our review page, another frequent problem in our lethargic movie market.)

Two standouts practically jumped off the shelves -- Donnie Darko, the debut effort of 26-year-old writer-director Richard Kelly, and Nicole Holofcener's utterly charming Lovely & Amazing.

Dark, lyrical, funny and thoroughly enigmatic, Donnie Darko falls into the territory of teen-age angst in suburban America, somewhere between Edward Scissorhands and Rebel Without a Cause. But comparing it to any genre film does it injustice. This is a thoroughly original treatment of the subject of alienation in a postcard, post-modern world.

Jake Gyllenhaal (The Good Girl) lumbers beneath a dark cloud as Donnie, a sensitive teen-ager who receives apocalyptic visions from a reptilian-faced rabbit, tells all to his well-meaning therapist (Katharine Ross) and falls in love with Gretchen (Jena Malone), a girl more troubled than himself. Donnie struggles with the inane New Age glop fed to him and his classmates by their ridiculous gym teacher (Beth Grant) and by a local self-help guru (Patrick Swayze), and tries to find meaning through Stephen Hawking's theories of time travel and wormholes in the universe.

Donnie Darko's script is precise and sharp, making the most of a remarkable supporting cast, including Maggie Gyllenhaal as Donnie's sister Elizabeth, Mary McDonnell as his world-weary mother and Holmes Osborne as his unflappable father. The film mesmerizes and amuses throughout and ultimately catapults the audience into a state of heightened grief and wonder with its cyclical structure. A singular, bizarre accident is the film's turning point, and we are left wondering if what we've seen is actually what happened at all. Love and longing color both dream and reality and the audience is left knowing how it feels to wish we could turn back time.

Filmed on a tighter, more personal scale with a jaded but affectionate point of view, Lovely & Amazing explores the emotional and physical struggles of a family of self-absorbed L.A. women. Brenda Blethyn plays the matriarch, Jane, hospitalized for extensive lyposuction partially due to vanity, and partially because she's got a huge crush on her smarmy plastic surgeon (Michael Nouri).

Jane's daughters, meanwhile, navigate the challenges and disappointments of career, relationships and personal discovery with the limited resources they have accumulated in their 30-something years. Catherine Keener's Michelle is a woman who believes she deserves greatness, even though she has squandered most of her adult life so far. Her sister Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) is an actress with body-image issues and a scarce sense of self. While Jane languishes in the hospital, Michelle impulsively takes a job at a photo lab and beds a teen-ager, and Elizabeth experiments with a narcissistic actor (Dermot Mulroney).

Grounding them all is Jane's 8-year-old adopted daughter Annie (Raven Goodwin), a chubby African-American girl whose odd approach to life provides a bittersweet counterpoint to the trivial pursuits of her mother and sisters. Lovely & Amazing is about the faults we overlook in those we love and how the bonds of affection, among women, transcend all the discomforts, bad planning and misdirected ambition of adulthood. It is wonderfully acted and precisely written -- more a seltzer than a bon-bon, fizzy and potentially explosive but light and easily digested.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

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