Laurel Canyon

on March 07, 2003 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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Lisa Cholodenko's second film, after "High Art," is an equally adept study of the intersection of two worlds and the startling connections between them. Set in the environs of Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon, home to many rock musicians and music producers, the film centers on Jane (Frances McDormand), a freewheeling record producer, and her estranged, conservative son, Sam (Christian Bale), who dislikes everything about his mother. Unfortunately, he has to stay in her house while he and his equally straitlaced fiancée, Alex (Kate Beckinsale), search for an apartment of their own. What Sam hasn't counted on is that Alex might be drawn to Jane's uninhibited way of life--and to her much younger rock musician lover, Ian (Allesandro Nivola).

While Cholodenko's direction veers towards the obvious, most notably when she cross cuts Sam's potential dalliance with a fellow medical student (Natascha McElhone) with Alex's erotic interaction with Jane and Ian, her script is knowing and savvy about the psychological undercurrents that drive people's actions and relationships. Nor do events play out in a predictable manner; the film ends on a refreshingly ambiguous note that doesn't spell everything out. The actors are up to the material, with McDormand in particular standing out as a loving mother who hasn't the faintest idea how to reach out to her son. (Amusingly, Jane is exactly the sort of person the worried mother McDormand played in "Almost Famous" warned her son against). Bale and Beckinsale are also very fine as the repressed couple who harbor depths and feelings they're not even aware that they have. Cholodenko does cheat a bit; one crucial scene, involving Jane and Alex, is an unnecessary tease. But if "Laurel Canyon" isn't quite as daring as it thinks it is, it is an always honest, often stirring movie. Starring Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale and Natascha McElhone. Directed and written by Lisa Cholodenko. Produced by Susan A. Stover and Jeffrey Levy-Hinte. A Focus release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 103 min

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