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Overall Rating

Awesome: 32.14%
Worth A Look39.29%
Just Average: 21.43%
Pretty Crappy: 7.14%
Sucks: 0%

3 reviews, 10 user ratings

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Laurel Canyon
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by Brian McKay

"A fish-out-of-water tale amid the L.A. Rock n' Roll lifestyle."
4 stars

Frances McDormand has given me yet another reason to like her as the "Somewhat screwed up but still loving mother" after ALMOST FAMOUS. Christian Bale has given me cause to think "that kid from EMPIRE OF THE SUN really has grown up and really CAN act". And Kate Beckinsale and Natasha McElhone have simply given me a reason to keep drawing breath.

Laurel Canyon is the latest from Lisa Cholodenko, a director with a short but respectable track record that includes High Art and episodes of NBC's sadly defunct Homicide. Using the name of any prominent Los Angeles street as a title sets a tone of L.A. mystique - a tone that the film mostly achieves. In this case, the street in question is part of an affluent neighborhood known as home to many musicians and record industry people. One of its residents is the fast-living bisexual pot-smoking record producer mom Jane (Frances McDormand), whose lifestyle is at-odds with that of her conservative Harvard graduate doctor son, Sam (Christian Bale). He is the opposite of most kids who had overbearingly strict parents and rebelled because of it. His mother's wild, loose lifestyle apparently scarred him so much that he became the rigid and condescending Type-A personality he is today. (Meanwhile, I'm thinking "Why couldn't I have had this mom growing up?" Pot and orgies and barbecue, Oh my!)

Sam's adult relationship with mom has been tenuous at best, However she promises that he and his equally stiff and conservative (but gorgeous) girlfriend Alex (Kate Beckinsale) can stay at her currently unoccupied house, while he works in a residency program in Los Angeles. When Sam and Alex show up, however, Jane is in the living room and in the the middle of a bong hit with her young rock-star lover, Ian (Alessandro Nivola), and his band (played by the members of Folk Implosion). Turns out she and the boys will need to stay in the house a while, since she just broke up with her previous boyfriend and now needs to start living at home again. Plus she needs her home studio to rework the latest single from the band's upcoming album in order to satisfy the demands of greedy record execs.

As expected, there are the odd scenes of the uptight yuppie couple being put off by Jane and the band's antics, especially with Ian's shameless yet charming flirtation with Alex. While Sam goes off to the hospital every day, Alex stays home to try and work on her graduate thesis. She quickly becomes derailed, however, when she discovers it's a lot more fun to smoke a blunt downstairs with a rock band than finish that thesis on Drosophilia Genomics (the sexual instincts of fruit flies) up in her room.

As if one hot chick in his life isn't enough, Sam quickly finds a mutual attraction with Sara (Natascha McElhorne), a stunning second year intern at the hospital. He skirts dangerously close to an affair with Sara, trying to keep it together for Alex's sake while not realizing that Alex has gotten a bit too comfortable herself in the company of Ian and Jane.

Although the film occasionally feels a bit forced or manipulative, it never loses its overall sense of credibility. Frances Mcdormand is simply great as Jane, and as usual never disappoints. Bale keeps his character so tightly reigned in that when the inevitable emotional explolsion arrives it feels that much more real and powerful. Beckinsale looks like Kate Beckinsale? What more need she do? And as for the hypnotic Natascha McElhorne . . . Goddammit, now I'm going to have to see feardotcom.com just because she's in it! Nivola also does a nicely convincing turn as the spoiled and overconfident but likeable musician Ian, who also provides vocals to the tracks he and the band play throughout the film, lending them a more genuine sound. While it would have been nice for Sam and Jane to have more mother-son screen time together so that we could delve deeper into their relationship, their final scene together imparts a nice sense of closure to preface a blithely ambiguous conclusion.

One side note: Strangely enough, the three Brits in the principal cast (Bale, Beckinsale, and McElhone) are respectively playing two Americans and one Israeli, while the Boston-born Yank Nivola plays the English rock star. That's Hollywood!

Though bearing a few minor similarities, LAUREL CANYON is not to be mistaken as a mere derivative of films like the aforementioned ALMOST FAMOUS. (Nor is it to be mistaken as a film about the 80's porn star of the same name). It stands on the strength of its performers and a solid script that is propelled by the seduction of Alex by the rock and roll lifestyle and Sam's coming to terms in his relationships with Jane and Alex. All of these elements combine to make the detour through the world of LAUREL CANYON an enjoyable one.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7141&reviewer=258
originally posted: 03/06/03 22:56:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/13/08 helas Mostly rich, stuck-up people with boundary issues. 4 stars
1/24/05 Phil M. Aficionado B. McKay's review says it all. Thanks for saving me the trouble, Brian. 4 stars
11/02/04 tommy marlar great film,loved it and i'm not even much of a movie person 4 stars
5/09/04 Ben Tacker Has Frances McDormand ever made a bad movie? Laurel Canyon is no exception. 4 stars
8/12/03 jean think this film is a litmus test, you get it or you don't 5 stars
5/11/03 skye my kinda stuff, too, but not a good flick. poor dialogue, boring, predictable characters. h 2 stars
5/03/03 john my kinda stuff 5 stars
3/30/03 Albie Good flick. Beckinsale is breathtaking. 4 stars
3/29/03 Suzz Frances if fine; film is little but soft-core sleaze. Sorry I validated it with my $/time 2 stars
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  07-Mar-2003 (R)



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