Directed by Nicole Holofcener. Starring Catherine Keener, Brenda Blethyn, Emily Mortimer, Raven Goodwin, Jake Gyllenhaal and Dermot Mulroney.

Holofcener's debut, 'Walking and Talking', was a spiky and funny look at two New York friends (Keener and Anne Heche) dealing with hitting 30. Since then she has made the natural progression to episodes of 'Sex and the City' but it's taken her five years to direct a follow-up movie.

Shifting the action to the West Coast, 'Lovely and Amazing' could easily have carried the title 'Talking and Talking' as a family of women discuss just where each of their lives are going. Nothing much happens, but because of the performances, it's worth lending a sympathetic ear.

In comfortable LA, a divorcee and her three daughters are stuck in a rut about how they look and who they are. Jean (Blethyn) decides to have liposuction but probably because she fancies her doctor. Her eldest Michelle (Keener) is weighed down by a dead marriage and a non-career as an artist. Her sister, Elizabeth, (Mortimer) is a struggling actress who is more worried about the size of her arms than getting a big break. And Annie (Goodwin), Jean's 8-year-old adopted African-American daughter, wants to get her hair straightened and wonders why she can't be white.

When Jean's surgery gets complicated and she has to stay in hospital for a few extra days, her girls start to founder, spinning off in different directions before realising how much they need each other.

Holofcener resists the 'sugar with a shovel' approach of chick flicks and instead tempers the hugs with well-timed digs. While there's not one bad line from anyone in the movie, the standout is Keener as the former prom queen who has become a bitter mother wishing for yesterday. Her performance is so great that you'll wonder if Holofcener should've just made the whole film about her. If she did, though, you'd miss Mortimer's hilarious one night stand with a movie star and Goodwin's surly putdowns when dealing with her big sisters.

By the close there have been no great life turnarounds for any of them but their growing understanding of how things are is always charming to watch. After this, you'd like to think that the studios might let Holofcener turn her attention to a few more US TV shows. They need talents like her.

Harry Guerin