If the booze-swilling, joint-toking, oversexed evil sister of Frances McDormand’s Almost Famous matron were to make her own movie, it might look something like Lisa Cholodenko’s Laurel Canyon, a film that gives the finger to those who raise their children as conservatively as possible, saying, “We reckless, life-loving free spirits have it hard too, you know!” McDormand stars as that malevolent doppelganger Jane, a top-notch rock ’n roll producer who rekindles the awkward relationship with her uptight psychiatrist son Sam when he returns home to sunny California with his equally uptight fiancé Alex in tow. Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale portray this match seemingly made in heaven (they’re the type of couple whose idea of quality time involves reading medical journals “together”), and they walk through the movie like tourists dazed by the neon lights and exploding fireworks at Disneyland—maybe because both of them are British, and their affected take on a young and decidedly banal American couple causes their interplay to appear like dim caricatures with stiff upper lips. Exposed to Jane’s exuberant lifestyle, the couple lets down their guard and allow themselves to be tempted by life. Sam enters into a flirtation with his supervisor at the hospital (Natascha McElhone, who after Solaris, seems to be capable of nothing but playing a temptress) while Alex becomes infatuated with the singer (Alessandro Nivola) Jane is producing and having sex with. Laurel Canyon’s most infuriating quality is that it telegraphs where it’s going in about 10 minutes, slowly explicating every little contrivance along the way to make sure we don’t miss a thing. But miss what? That Sam needs to loosen up a little, or that Jane might have been a wee bit insensitive and selfish somewhere in the course of raising her son? Laurel Canyon is the kind of movie that points its finger at the flaws of all of its characters, thinking that adds up to some sort of honesty or integrity. All it really means is that the characters are nothing but failures, thus making their obnoxious suffering and self-centered whining impossible to endure for over 100 minutes.
- Lisa Cholodenko
- Lisa Cholodenko
- Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Natascha McElhone, Alessandro Nivola
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