Nicole Holofcener’s first feature since her insouciant and shrewd debut, 1996’s Walking and Talking, takes on female stereotypes and overturns them — sometimes. Jane Marks might have been an easy target of parody: rich and idle, she fills the loneliness of her golden years by adopting an overweight African-American daughter, nudging her grown-up birth daughters into a new awareness of their unhappiness, and undergoing liposuction. Instead, she becomes the film’s steadying, humane center, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s played by stalwart Oscar winner Brenda Blethyn. Or that Holofcener, who also wrote the script, couldn’t sustain a stereotype if she wanted to, at least not with female characters.
Catherine Keener is alternately brittle and vulnerable as elder daughter Michelle, an unhappy housewife who makes unsellable art and alienates almost everyone with her self-loathing. Emily Mortimer is cute and sad as the younger daughter, who’s seeking to make it as an actress in Hollywood (a scene in which she bares all to a callow actor played by Dermot Mulroney could have been grotesque but is instead cathartic). Newcomer Raven Goodwin is truculent and lost as the adopted Annie. Why are they special? Not so much because of the performances and the details, which are splendid (Michelle sculpts tiny chairs: "Wouldn’t you love to be small enough to sit in one?" she asks), as because of the unstated, inescapable web of love and loathing, past and present, that connects them. (89 minutes)