Laurel Canyon
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Starring: Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Alessandro Nivola, Natascha McElhone


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SUNDANCE REVIEW (which means I'm doing a lot of reviews in a hurry, so they might be shorter and less fantastical):

"Laurel Canyon" is the first film I've seen at Sundance 2003 that actively annoyed me, though it wasn't really the fault of the actors. Most of them, anyway. I just found some of the crap that these characters do in this movie to be off-putting and fucking aggravating, and I was hoping for a payoff that never came. Still not an awful film, though - some interesting shit took place, too.

Laurel Canyon is an area of Los Angeles where Jane (McDormand) lives and works as a flighty yet earthy music producer with a history of bad relationships and shitty circumstances. She's currently letting a rock band fronted by Ian (Nivola) crash at her place while they record an album, although the fact that she's dating the lead singer, significantly her junior, helps ease the whole crash-pad tension. What complicates matters is that her estranged son Sam (Bale) and his uptight fiancee Alex (Beckinsale) have to move in while Sam starts his residency and Alex finishes up a big important thesis, and Mom's lifestyle is going to really fuck things up, as it apparently has fucked up everything in Sam's life. Indeed, Alex starts to get drawn into the freewheeling world of rock 'n' fuckin' roll, alienating her from Sam, who seems to have seen this kind of thing happen FAR too often already, and he starts to become drawn to a co-worker of his, the beautiful and foreign Sara (McElhone), who is separate from his mother's world, shares his interests and is blatantly hot for him.

So raging infidelity is the name of the day. What I liked about this movie is that Sam, after many trials and much hardship, takes the fuckin' high road and gives the reluctant stiffarm to Sara, and that struck me as something you NEVER see in a movie. The tempted guy ALWAYS gives in, and this time he didn't, which seemed interesting and new. What annoyed me, however, was that in order to buy the fact that Alex is tempted to hop into a ludicrous situation like a three-way with a rock star and HER FIANCEE'S MOM, I'm going to need a good performance out of Kate Beckinsale, and I'm afraid I didn't really buy her at all as either the bookworm science geek or the 'coming out of her shell' girl. Maybe I haven't lived in LA long enough, but I had a hard time swallowing the MOM nearly having a THREE WAY with a ROCK STAR and HER SON'S FIANCEE in the first place. It's sort of an interesting idea, but it needs to come off much better than it did here. Maybe I'm not even supposed to believe these people are real characters, this being Los Angeles and all, the land of the falsehood.

McDormand is fine as usual, and Bale is pretty believable as the distraught Sam, if he does get a little mush-mouthed toward the end, and Nivola is charming and amusing, although I found myself so accustomed to the rock star asshole stereotype that the fact that he wasn't hiding a smack addiction or a tendency for violent abuse struck me as exciting and new, too. Overall, though, I felt a bit let down and underwhelmed. I guess I was rooting for some sort of really effective Sam-Figures-Out-What-Alex-Is-Up-To scene, but once it came, it was pretty anticlimactic. Just some yelling and running around and nothing that seemed very consistent, or perhaps it just wasn't exactly what I wanted to see. Not that it's happened, but I think if I was dating somebody that then decided to try and have a three-way with my mother and a rock star, I would stop dating them. Then again, I don't live in Laurel Canyon.

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