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In this film, currently playing only the arthouse theaters, Christian Bale brings his fiance (Kate Beckinsale) to L.A. to live in his mom's house temporarily while they try to find their own place. His mom however, is a free spirited record producer prone to wild parties and doping... and is also sleeping with the lead singer (Alessandro Nivola) of the band she is producing. Frances McDormand plays the mom and is terrific in the role, as she shows that she loves her life and does care about her estranged son, even as she winds up seducing Beckinsale's character into her lifestyle. The cast is great, the location work in Laurel Canyon is terrific and the characters are all interesting people. My only gripe would be about the ending, or lack thereof.. the film just kindof ends without a resolution. GRADE: A-
This is an insightful and truly under-appreciated film. And, as anyone who has lived in the Hollywood/ West Hollywood area can attest, the film is also a very accurate portrayal of LA life in the biz. Bale and Beckinsale shine as well. Definitely McDormand's best work outside of "Fargo"; her versatility and talent continue to amaze and impress. The producers' choice of music is perfect and truly reflects the mood and tone of the film--it makes me want to go out and buy the soundtrack. :) Also, "Laurel Canyon" shows how frail and tenuous life's relationships can be. By straying from the "norms" of his serious, medical student world, Bale understands his mother's complexities and foibles and thus establishes the bond with her that he has possibly sought all his life. Well done!! *** 1/2
If you like being smacked in the face and having characters who behave in emotionally "traceable" ways (i.e., whose motivations are apparent as soon as they act), you won't like this film but what a joy it is to watch a film unfold in layers, slowly, subtly, un-rushed, in a way that most American films don't allow, too much in a rush to get to the next "plot point" and too obsessed with big dramatic turns. Audiences have to be fed such things, constantly, or they'll lose interest, right? Wrong, I hope. And, Laurel Canyon makes the point better than a debate ever will. This is a remarkable piece of tapestry in muted tones and hues, populated by complicated, confused, uncertain, searching people. And, they change. But, they change by degrees, not by full turns of the wheel. Kate Beckinsale should watch this film over and over, and get out of the Spandex and Leather of the comic book films she's been doing. She and Frances McDormand are as real as any two actors you'll ever see on film. There are a couple of possible story "cop outs" in this film, which we won't mention because they'd spoil the story. But, in the end, they might not be cop-outs at all. They might be preferable to answering all the questions and delivering us from the theatre all neatly reconciled and sent off to coffee and desert. Good for you, Lisa Cholodenko. A brave choice and a fine film.
People are often disappointed in the ones that love them or the ones that
they love. This disappointment can stem from the mistakes made by parents in
the upbringing of their children, or perhaps the simple differences that
separate family members. It is this frustration that plagues Christian
Bale's character, Sam, in the film `Laurel Canyon.' A well-made character
study, `Laurel Canyon,' explores the reasons for the distress and resentment
that can reside between parents and their children.
`Laurel Canyon' is about a man named Sam (Bale) and his fiancé Alex (Kate
Bekinsale) who move to California so he can begin his medical residency at a
local hospital and she can finish her dissertation. The pair moves in with
Sam's mom Jane (Frances McDormand) who is record producer who lives on
Laurel Canyon Road in Hollywood. Although she is in her mid 40s, she lives
the life of a rock star, smoking pot, drinking, partying, and hanging out
with her rock star boyfriend Ian (Alessandro Nivola), who is 16 years
younger than she. Sam and Jane are always at odds with each other as he is
ultraconservative and Jane is like a teenager. The two must weed out their
problems and come to terms with each other about the mistakes that Jane made
while bringing up Sam.
Although a bit slow at times, `Laurel Canyon' was an interesting film that
has its lighthearted and touching moments. It's funny to watch the subtle
changes that begin in the characters lives. Alex, although conservative like
Sam, is slowly being drawn into the free spirited world of Jane's home, with
her parties and rock friends always around. Sam is being tempted by the
fruit of another woman named Sara (Natascha McElhone), as their share their
sexual desires with each other over private conversations in a car. And even
Jane is beginning to recognize her own faults-she had several lovers
throughout her life is starting to feel the need to settle on just one, Ian.
Every character starts to understand that they are all the extreme end of
different spectrums and they must learn to meet somewhere in the
The acting in the film was excellent. Every actor was believable and to a
certain extent, the audience can feel their pain and happiness. McDormand
(`Fargo') and Bale (`Empire of The Sun') steal the show with their amazing
abilities to transcend the characters in the script to the dynamic people
they present on the screen. Praise must also be given to Bekinsale (`Pearl
Harbor') and Nivola (`Jurassic Park 3') for their exceptional performances.
One other superior quality of `Laurel Canyon' was the music, some of which was sung by Nivola. The soundtrack holds a great deal of classic rock songs from groups such as `Steely Dan,' `Leroy' and `Mercury Rev.'
Overall, `Laurel Canyon' was a very good movie that reminds its audience to look beyond the surface of things and to see what really matters in all relationships-love. ***
I really enjoy reading other folks reviews of films I have seen. It is
interesting to see how personal perspective is, well, personal.
I have been a paid critic in the past and have often explained to folks that opinions are just that, opinion. So I will endeavor to explain my case for this fine film.
This is a story of a journey. It is not the journey the characters think they're taking. It is the odd place they go on their way to what they thought they wanted. In that way, it is a lot like life.
You have the fish out of water aspect. A young couple wonders into his mother's life. A life he has never appreciated or enjoyed. His girlfriend, on the other hand, seems primed for the hedonism she encounters.
The mother (played to amazing life by Frances McDormand) is a record producer with a successful business life and a spotty personal one. She's in the midst of recording a record when her son descends. But it is the young man who fronts the group she's producing that has both her and her son's girlfriend in a lather.
There are emotional affairs flying about. There is moral condescension from characters who've been less than honorable.
On top of a good to great cast of principal actors, there's the soundtrack of flat-out great music.
Well directed, admirably cast, with an ambiguous and thoughtful script, plus enough sexual tension to fuel a score of teen comedies. Great flick. Bring your moral compass, and your ears.
"Laurel Canyon" is a story about 'family'. The grown son (Christian Bale)
of a record producer (Frances McDormand) ends up bringing his girl friend
(Kate Bekinsdale) to California. They expected to stay in his mother's
empty home while he worked at a psychiatric hospital and she worked on a
thesis. Due to a schedule change, his mother is still in the home when he
and his girl friend arrive. It is obvious that there is substantial tension
and resentment on the son's side of the relationship. He feels his mother
was not a good parent and that she is irresponsible, and she is still living
the carefree and wild lifestyle she has always lived. His curious
girlfriend is drawn into the lives of his mother and her boyfriend
(Allesandro Nivola), with the potential for disastrous
Frances McDormand does a fine job as the mother. Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsdale are also good as the young couple. Allesandro Nivola is entertaining as the mother's current lover. This is a nicely done film. However, something seems a bit flat and the story line doesn't pick up as much steam as a good drama should. It tends to have a 'so what' mentality about the immorality taking place, and the result is that the impact of the film is minimalized. Christian Bale and Frances McDormand have a poignant scene at the end of "Laurel Canyon", but again the film strangely mutes the power which the actors imbue their characters with.
I'd rate this film a 70/100. Fans of the actors involved will enjoy seeing their favorites on the screen, but others will most likely be a bit disappointed by this movie.
I saw this film at the Miami International Film Festival and was thoroughly
absorbed and entertained. I don't know if it will be as successful as the
director's much-lauded "High Art" from several years ago; "Laurel Canyon" is
not as serious, though it does explore some of the same themes. All of the
performances are pitch-perfect. I suspect audiences will especially enjoy
and identify with Kate Beckinsale's character: a studious and sheltered
young doctoral student who takes to the hedonistic Los Angeles lifestyle in
a big way. Frances McDormand and Christian Bale are also wonderful.
Music is almost another character in this film; it pervades the atmosphere. The music, by such artists as Mercury Rev and Clinic, complements and underscores the dynamics between the characters. It's been awhile since I've seen a movie with such an intoxicating sense of place as well: whether accurate or not, Los Angeles is portrayed as a sybaritic wonderland. The film revels in the sensuality and freedom of this rarefied realm, and it's intriguing to see the effect on the young couple.
When Frances McDormand's music producer character asks Alex her opinion on the record she's producing, Alex declines, saying she doesn't know much about popular music. McDormand responds, "Follow your instincts. It either pulls you in or it doesn't." This movie pulled me in.
Laurel Canyon deals about the adversities you have to deal with whether you are more or less experienced. Every character on this story has different experiences: some are more naïve, some are more bohemian, some are more averse, and some don't care at all, but all of them have consciously made a mistake. I say consciously because there's no such thing as someone making mistakes in these situations without thinking thoroughly about the outcome. The premise and development are as simple as it can be, but simplicity doesn't mean banality. The screenplay in its simplicity has an incredible depth and reliability, whether it is on the awkward situations characters get into, or the sexual adventures, that some of us have been through. And to those who have, this movie speaks our language, because it relies on us and us in it. This is why some independent movies are such a pleasure to watch, because even though we are not there, we are those characters.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
`Laurel Canyon' is an intriguing character-driven drama, written and
directed by Lisa Cholodenko and featuring first-rate performances by Frances
McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Alessandro Nivola and Natascha
Sam (Bale) and Alex (Beckinsale) are recent Harvard med school grads who move to Southern California to begin a new phase in their lives, he as a resident in a psychiatric ward and she as a genetics researcher working on her PhD. While there, the young couple moves in with Sam's mother, Jane (McDormand), an aging, hard-living but highly successful music producer who owns a gorgeous residence (in Hollywood's posh Laurel Canyon) that also doubles as a recording studio. Sam, an earnest, rigid, almost prudish young man, has long rejected the free-wheeling lifestyle of his mother whom he considers more of an embarrassment than anything else. The brainy Alex, on the other hand, who graduated first in their highly competitive class, has led a more `sheltered' existence and she finds herself strangely drawn to the hedonistic atmosphere she finds here. Another factor pulling the couple apart is the growing relationship between Sam and Sara (McElhone), the beautiful young resident who works with him at the hospital. The fifth element in the mix is Ian (Nivola), a smooth-talking, cocky young singer who, though officially attached to the much-older Jane, plays a primary role in getting Alex to loosen up, shed her inhibitions, and come join their little `party.'
`Laurel Canyon' plays out like a `civilized' power struggle, with the various characters jockeying for position, staking out their territory, and attempting to pull certain key individuals into their own respective corners. Alex, with her air of naïve innocence, is clearly the main `prize' here, but Sam also feels a noticeable tug from Sara, who senses in her co-worker a kindred spirit she would like to get to know better. These are people playing with fire Jane and Ian in particular and one of the messages of `Laurel Canyon' seems to be that a life conducted without a clear moral code will end up in disaster for all concerned. However, Cholodenko does not seem exactly enamored of Sam's provincialism either, seeing it as a wall he has constructed in order to hide from the truth of his own nature.
McDormand makes an indelible impression as the intriguing but somewhat pathetic Jane, a woman who's failed as a mother primarily because she's never been able to grow up and accept adult responsibility. The few encounters we are privy to between mother and son are searing in their intensity, but `Laurel Canyon' keeps its confrontation scenes to a minimum, choosing instead to find its meaning in the things that are NOT said rather than in the things that are. That's a risky strategy that generally pays off, though some in the audience may find the subtlety and lack of a clear-cut resolution unsatisfying and even frustrating in the long run. The plotting is sometimes a bit too clear-cut and neat for its own good and the parallelism (i.e. the simultaneous drifting apart of Sam and Alex due to their respective `temptations') sometimes feels forced and obvious. The parallelism is less obtrusive in the case of Sam's patient, a 16-year old boy whose drug addiction is placed in stark opposition to the `casual, recreational' drug use of Jane and her music-making cohorts. Moreover, having Sam and Alex be a married couple rather than just boyfriend and girlfriend might have intensified some of the moral complexities and dilemmas faced by the characters. Still, the caliber of both the acting and the writing keeps us involved for the duration of the film.
`Laurel Canyon' spins a unique tale in a relatively unfamiliar setting and provides five fine actors an opportunity to really display the perfection of their craft.
But I just didn't. Perhaps I'd read one too many okay reviews, but I had
hopes for this after High Art, that I found it a little, well,
Fascinating, but disappointing.
I'm the biggest Fraces McDormand fan out there, she's ALWAYS great in
everything she does, and she pretty much held my attention here as well. If the story had been more hers, it would've really set sail, but there's a plot about her son (Christian Bale, American Pyscho and Little Women) and his fiance (Kate
Beckinsdale, Pearl Harbor) that just doesn't work. Perhaps it's all the odd
accents- Bale is a brit doing a 'new yawk' accent, Beckinsdale is a brit doing a 'standard American', Natasha McElhone (Truman Show) is a brit doing an
indecipherable middle eastern accent, and Allesandra Nivola (Face Off) is an
American doing a British accent. Phew.
If you sense something a little 'odd' during this movie, it's that every sentence feels inauthentic, because there are certain words that all the actors doing
accents simply can't pronounce that well. It seems picky, but it has the
cumulative effect of feeling like you're watching a school play, and it takes you out of the story.
The story, by the way, has a great premise in it. The straight up tight son coming to stay with his promiscuous liberal mother- who seduces his fiance. Very
Greek. I just wish it had delved a little deeper, and that Bale and Beckinsdale were either more fully developed characters, or in the film less.
But I have to say, it was worth seeing for Frances McDormand alone. She really lights up a screen whenever she's given a chance.
I'd give this a 6 out of 10.
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