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Laurel Canyon (2003)
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Review Date: May 17, 2003
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Writer: Lisa Cholodenko
Producers: Susan Stover, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte
Actors:
Frances McDormand as Jane
Christian Bale as Sam
Kate Beckinsale as Alex
Plot:
A stuffy guy and his well-educated girlfriend drive out to L.A. in order to follow up on their studies before their upcoming nuptials, and crash at the boy's mom place, a mother who just happens to be a free-wheeling, pot-smoking, tofu-eating, hedonist who produces music and loves to throw parties at her pad. Initially, the clash of worlds seems unmanageable, but with time, everyone opens up a little and it isn't long before two chicks are making out in a pool and characters are "explored" further....
Critique:
This is one of those movies that drops you into the closed quarters world of a group of people living their intertwined lives along with their interaction, chemistry, human emotions and life decisions which ultimately move them all forward/backwards. Basically...it's a character study. And in the case of most character-driven films, you will usually appreciate what they have to offer if the characters are well-established, well-acted and the story & setting are interesting or original enough. In this case, most of the elements are covered, despite the film's somewhat predictable path. It also includes a number of amusing moments, emotion here and there, a decent soundtrack, a couple of memorable one-liners and plenty of character decisions that will likely have you chatting it up afterwards. I liked this movie on the whole and especially loved the very credible showing by Frances McDormand (or as I like to call her: that actress who's married to one of the Coen brothers), who completely embodies her character, and Mr. AMERICAN PSYCHO himself, Christian Bale, who picks a great role in which he can showcase his wider range as an actor (he's a nerd boy here) and does so with significant aplomb. Two solid performances. McDormand's character is ironically the antithesis of what her character in ALMOST FAMOUS feared most for her son at the time. Alessandro Nivola (who will always be Pollux Troy to us!) is also pretty decent as the free-spirited musician (and if he didn't base his character's look/feel on one of those assholes from Oasis, I'll poke myself in the eye), while Kate Beckinsale looked gorgeous, displayed her naked tummy on more than one occasion, but pissed me off when she didn't go "nudie" in a couple of scenes in which her character would clearly have been naked were it not for an obvious clause in Ms. Beckinsale's contract NOT to show off her bonbons-- thankfully for us, Bale goes shirtless on more than one occasion and per usual...does not disappoint!!

Her character is supposed to be "shedding" her inhibitions and even though she does get somewhat "jiggy with it" on several occasions, she never drops her top and that took away from the force of her development (yes, from an artistic point of view...not a perverted one). The fifth character in the story, Natascha McElhone, was also credible as a hot Israeli med student with a strong accent. I quite enjoyed her, as well as her deep, soulful eyes. But harrumph...enough about that. As for the story, well...I have to admit that it's not exactly the most gripping or exciting of tales, but on the whole, I appreciated its setting, admired its characters' honesty and ultimate resolutions, and definitely liked the world in which it was all set, which essentially pinned the "9-to-5ers" against the "bohemians". Lots of drugs, drinks, parties and sex in this film...a lot like my life actually-expect for the drugs, parties and sex! I was, however, a little bored at times and saw many of the players' moves coming from scene one onwards (although I can't say that I expected McDormand to honor us with that free tit-shot...thanks!) But the themes touched upon (resolution of past differences, dropping of inhibitions, liberation of oneself, redemption, etc....) were intriguing, as were the actors, as well as the ultimate, somewhat open-ended, conclusion (Bale underwater left much to hypothesize). I enjoy movies like this because they truly do take you inside the lives of a niche group of folks with whom you share a little, learn a little and ultimately, find some truth out about yourself (in my case, I found out that I was an artistic pervert and that I need to take more drugs, go to more parties and have more sex). All in all, an honest character study mixed in with a touch of pretension (it's an art-house flick, after all) which resonated with me somewhat and will surely be related to more by anyone with a granola in their life.
(c) 2016 Berge Garabedian
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