Laurel Canyon

Laurel Canyon

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

For a film that could easily have slotted into the clash-of-cultures category, mainlining on sex, drugs and rock'n'roll in the fine tradition of the West Coast music scene, is, in truth, deeply felt and more subtle than simply getting high by the pool, with whisky sours on the side, watching inhibition loosen like the tie strings on a summer blouse.

Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art) dispenses with cliche in favour of genuine characterisation and her script is a paragon of understatement. Essentially, this is the story of an engaged couple from Harvard whose relationship changes when exposed to the laid back ambience of Los Angeles.

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Alex (Kate Beckinsale) is a shy, studious East Coast beauty who finds people intimidating and sex better when not entirely naked. Her fiance Sam (Christian Bale) is thoughtful in bed, although undemonstrative and lacking the spontaneity of a natural-born charmer. He has accepted a job in a psychiatric hospital in LA, which means staying in his mother's house in Laurel Canyon before renting a place of their own.

Jane (Frances McDormand), Sam's mother, is a record producer who has been around long enough to have no illusions about the ethics of the business or the paucity of talent from which to draw. The great days are gone, it's true, but she is unapologetically tomboyish about sexual liaisons and honest confrontation: "I love a man who speaks his mind, even if it's bullshit."

Her man of the moment is Ian (Alessandro Nivola), lead singer of a British band, whose new album she is helping to shape. His in-ya-face attitude is a weapon in the game they play, but when he flirts with Alex, who cannot help but feel an itch of desire, Jane sees the danger and tries to stop it.

How easy it would have been to depict the fiesty lady, who smokes pot and indulges in bisexual affairs - there is much emphasis on an AC/DC tee shirt, which does the rounds, so that you know whose had it with whom - as a decandent influence, but Cholodenko has too much respect for Jane and doesn't cut corners for the sake of expediency.

The performances compliment the script beautifully. It is perverse, perhaps, that McDormand is the only one playing in her native tongue. Bale and Beckinsale are English, speaking American. Nivola is American, speaking English, and Natascha McElhone, who plays an Israeli doctor, was brought up in Sussex.

Needless to say, they are accent perfect.

Reviewed on: 13 Nov 2003
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Culture-clash drama about a man and his fiancee who move with his mother.
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Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Writer: Lisa Cholodenko

Starring: Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Natascha McElhone, Alessandro Nivola, Louis Knox Barlow, Russell Pollard, Imaad Wasif, Mickey Petralia, Melissa De Sousa

Year: 2002

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

EIFF 2003

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