The dream of a feel-good Lynch

Inland Empire

on December 06, 2006 by John P. McCarthy
Not great to begin with, the commercial prospects for David Lynch's latest puzzle aren't helped by its three-hour runtime. Stretches will tax even diehard Lynchians, though it goes by in a flash compared to some other, shorter films on the 44th New York Film Festival docket. The mixed verdict: Although not awful, Inland Empire is thematically tired and visually drab. In the plus column, it coheres (which doesn't mean all the dots could ever be connected); isn't especially sordid; and begins in a portentous state of doom and gloom yet ends on a positive, upbeat note.

There's considerable overlap with Mulholland Drive : Parallel worlds are created in which we find a brunette prostitute sad and lost in Poland and a blond actress (Laura Dern) unmoored in Hollywood. In addition to looking increasingly like her mother Diane Ladd — who appears briefly as a celebrity-hounding TV host — for the first hour Dern looks as bewildered as the audience. She proceeds to bridge the realms Lynch constructs, weaving among the cursed set of her new movie made with a perky director (Jeremy Irons) and attractive leading man (Justin Theroux); Poland at various historical periods and seasons; the mansion she shares with her jealous husband; a grotty little suburban house; and a bordello — the latter two of which might be located east of Tinseltown in the titular Southern California region. Forgoing further plot recitation, suffice to say Lynch ruminates on the nature of feminine identity, glamour, murder, confession and sundry gauzy incidents and moods triggered by a “Polish gypsy fairytale.”

His energy, discipline and organizational skills impress here more than his creative vision. Along with writing and directing, Lynch operated the camera, composed some of the music, designed and edited the sound and even helped build the sets. How did he keep it all straight in his head? Probably not every permutation and image is essential. And, even though Inland Empire isn't alluring enough to sit through multiple times, there's a meaningful pattern beneath it. Sorting through what's necessary and extraneous could pay off. No doubt the most moving passage will always be when one of the characters Dern plays is comforted by a female vagrant — “You're dyin', Lady” — as she expires on Hollywood Boulevard. There are worse ways for an actress to go out. Distributor: 518 Media
Cast: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux and Harry Dean Stanton
Director/Screenwriter: David Lynch
Producers: Mary Sweeney and David Lynch
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for language, some violence and sexuality/nudity
Running time: 179 min.
Release date: December 6, 2006 NY, December 15, 2006 LA, January 2007 exp

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