Martha Coolidge was once a cutting-edge film-maker on the Hollywood margins. Acclaimed for her semi-autobiographical documentary about date rape, Not a Pretty Picture (1975), she moved into features in 1983 with City Girl, the astute study of a photographer's struggle to find her niche, and the suburban teen romance, Valley Girl. Subsequently, however, she has been forced to play the system's game in order to keep working and has produced little of note since Rambling Rose in 1991.

Yet, even in a film as formulaic and flat as Material Girls, it's still obvious that Coolidge is a talented director, with an eye for a telling image and an empathetic insight into even the most insufferable characters. Essentially a vehicle for the Duff sisters, Hilary and Haylie, this is a silly bibelot about spoilt siblings whose brush with reality enables them to win back their late father's cosmetics empire. But Coolidge still satirises nouveau riche snobbery, media sensationalism and big business chicanery with a slick facility that neither alienates nor patronises the intended teen audience. Moreover, she also slips in a little folksy wisdom (courtesy of loyal maid, Maria Conchita Alonso), some working-class romance (in the form of lab assistant Marcus Coloma and pro bono lawyer, Lukas Haas) and plenty of hissable villainy from the ever-watchable Anjelica Huston.

In start contrast to this glitzy pulp is Andrew Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha, a resolutely understated study of a Boston post-graduate's bid to engage with a world that proves a consistent disappointment. Dominated by a splendidly pendulous performance by Kate Dollenmayer, this is less a narrative than a sequence of wordy encounters, whose improvisatory inconsequentiality recalls the early directorial efforts of John Cassavetes. Yet, such is their laconic wit and downbeat authenticity that it's difficult not to identify with Dollenmayer's coy crush on longtime friend Christian Rudder and her necessarily tactless resistance to the nerdy Bujalski's persistent and far from subtle entreaties.

Melinda Page Hamilton similarly holds together comic Bobcat Goldthwait's first venture behind the camera, Sleeping Dogs. Opening with a revelation that Tartan Films has asked critics not to reveal, this is a one-gag farce that advises against telling the whole truth. Suffice to say, Hamilton's guilty secret is a shocker and her life falls apart as friends and family proceed to disown her. There are a couple of scabrously funny lines and Hamilton gamely endures the consequences of her disgrace. But the direction is as blatant as the visuals are drab.

The same can't be said, however, for The Family Friend, which also plays fast and loose with good taste. Director Paolo Sorrentino got his screenwriting break on Antonio Capuano's five-part anthology The Dust of Naples (1998), and he demonstrates that he still has the gift for juggling multiple storylines in this pitch-black modern morality tale. At the centre of this scathing diatribe against humanity's basest instincts, Giacomo Rizzo delivers an outstanding display of pitiless malevolence, as a loan shark whose judgement is clouded by his passion for Laura Chiatti, the blonde daughter of a local bigwig, whose loathing for him unexpectedly dissipates at the very moment she exacts her revenge for the wedding day humiliation to which Rizzo had subjected her. Twisting and twisted, this is a grim fairytale, whose exquisite design bitingly emphasises the characters' spiritual emptiness and compensates for the disappointment of a rather rushed resolution.

A similar sense of fabulism informs Eden, a bittersweet tale of chocolate cola sauce and unexpected passion, in which Michael Hofmann indulges in the traditional fetishism of the foodie film. But, while this charming odd-couple drama offers some unconventional insights into taste and attraction, it fails to establish the backstories required fully to appreciate the platonic relationship that chef Josef Ostendorf forges with Charlotte Roche, a genial café waitress with a Down's syndrome daughter and an unfulfilling marriage.

There's an engaging hesitancy about the initial encounters, as Roche (a Brit who is a top TV presenter in Germany) succumbs to the thick-set loner's famously erotic cuisine. But smug husband Devid Striesow's growing suspicions about his now pregnant wife's secret assignations deflect the action towards a denouement whose bleak absurdism and tragic contrivance seem to belong to another movie.