Laurel Canyon (2002)
Main cast: Frances McDormand (Jane), Christian Bale (Sam), Kate Beckinsale (Alex), Natascha McElhone (Sara), and Alessandro Nivola (Ian McKnight)
Director: Lisa Cholodenko


Laurel Canyon is the perfect example of how, when you deliberately have your camerawork feel amateurish and hence more "real" and when you leave the ending deliberately hanging, you can pass off a third-rate Jackie Collins novel as an artistic movie. Like her previous movie High Art, Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon is awashed with drug use, pointless nudity, and exploitative lesbianism to mask the movie's lack of substance.

Sam, played unusually wooden by Christian Bale, and Alex, played just as woodenly by Kate Beckinsale, are two recently-married youngsters moving to LA. He, a doctor, will take up residency at a hospital while she will study fruit flies. Unfortunately, their place is currently taken up by Sam's mother, Jane. Jane is a bisexual junkie rock star mom who is there with the whole group. Predictably, Jane becomes fascinated and eventually becomes entangled with the relationship between Jane and Jane's rocker toyboy Ian (Alessandro Nivola, 100% unconvincing). Sam is fascinated with a resident at the hospital, Sara (Natascha McElhone, again wasted in yet another "mysterious, wide-eyed brunette temptress" role). Oh no, where will these people go from here? Therapy, you say? Good for you, because Cholodenko doesn't even bother to resolve the characters' mess.

That's right, she takes her time to set up the story but ends the story dangling. Why? I don't know. I don't even know if there's any reason for Cholodenko to do this, unless she's just trying too hard to be "artistic" in the formulaic, tired made-for-Cannes schlock sense. I can easily imagine Cholodenko watching religiously the movies of fellow pretentious aspiring-misanthropes like LaBute and Solondz, people enshrined in the Young Pretentious Aspiring Indie Filmmaker's Guide To Making A Movie bible as icons, and jotting down notes for the making of this movie.

Still, she would have gotten away with her pretensions if she has actually shown that she has something to say in this movie. If she has, I'd have welcomed this movie. Alas, Alex is such a sad, sad, underwritten woman and the men are bland non-entities. Frances McDormand easily steals the movie, but her Jane is such a "Look! I'm a junkie rock star LESBIAN!" cliché it's not even funny. The characters doesn't grow as people as much as they are put through the motions by Chodolenko, and in the end I don't know or care enough for Alex, Sam, Jane, or Scooby-Doo to appreciate the dangling ending. These people are so pretentiously showy in their angsts and dialogues that they are more of an arts student's idea of "perfect tortured people" rather than any credible characters.

In short, Laurel Canyon will please the crowd that concerns itself more with showy "artistic" filmmaking techniques as opposed to straightforward storytelling. These people may not care that underneath the deliberately fragmented and convoluted film is a third-rate tale of silly sex, silly people, and silly antics. Me, bah. If there ever be a McDonald's in Cannes, this movie will be the fries served.

Rating: 49


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