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Laurel Canyon
2002 - R - 103 Mins.
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Producer: Scott Ferguson
Written By: Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Alessandro Nivola
Review by: Harrison Cheung
LAUREL CANYON is sort of like a watered-down American version of an episode of the irreverent British TV comedy, ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, or an Italian sex-comedy romp. Kate Beckinsale and Christian Bale play Alex and Sam, a young couple, educated on the east coast at an Ivy League school. When Sam lands an internship in an LA hospital, they decide to stay at his mother's Laurel Canyon house, assuming that mom (Frances McDormand) would be out of town. But, the wild and crazy mom (she's a legendary rock & roll record producer) is home with her rock & roll boyfriend (Alessandro Nivola) who's 20 years than mom and about spitting distance from her own son's age!

This is writer/director Cholodenko's follow-up film after the indie favorite lesbian drama, HIGH ART which revitalized Ally Sheedy's career. Unfortunately, the highly anticipated LAUREL CANYON bombed at the theaters and is now available in North America on video.

There's obviously a lot of comic and dramatic possibilities with a story like LAUREL CANYON. We have the odd mother-son relationship; we have the odd dry relationship between Sam and Alex (the sexual frustration in their relationship is bluntly defined right at the beginning of the film during a love scene when Alex doesn't let Sam have an orgasm!), the square-son/rock-producer-mom relationshhip (done better with humor in any episode of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS) and we have the odd mother-boyfriend relationship. Add the possibility of a menage a trois, and surely LAUREL CANYON must sizzle?

Unfortunately, there is very little sex or humor - two things that would have made the movie interesting. Beckinsale stares a lot at those crazy rockers skinny dipping in the house's decadent old movie star pool - that dropjaw glare is her subtle way of saying that she's horny as hell and bored to tears with her square fiance. Bale is shirtless a lot, swimming but that's all. He too gulps and stares at an exotic co-worker, contemplating an affair. And the much-talked-about and hyped-in-the-trailer lesbian scene was more disturbing given that I find it hard to believe that someone's girlfriend would want to schlep her boyfriend's mom! Eww! But with all the frustrated stares, nothing happens.

The casting adds to LAUREL CANYON's contrivance. Beckinsale and Bale - both British - play American characters here with a slight lockjaw to their accents. Meanwhile Alessandro Nivola - American - plays a British rockstar with a hammy Oasis-wannabe accent while Natascha McElhone - another Brit - does what sounds like a movie version of an Israeli/Rula Lenska accent.

The movie is ultimately Frances McDormand's - she is the central figure in the story, trying to learn more about her son, sleep with his girlfriend, and rein in an insecure young lover. (Imagine if Cher embarrasses Elijah or Chastity when they visit home!) She is the mature woman warrior with a past of career successes and personal failures. It's fascinating to watch her mellow ever so slightly as she responds to her priggish son's embarrassment and outrage at her antics - especially as she obviously never worried about his reaction before. At her point in life, she's anxious to cultivate some sort of maternal bond. But with the other characters so under-written and poorly motivated, I got the feeling that LAUREL CANYON was a pale remake of a sexier, funnier European movie. McDormand is good but she can't rescue the ultimate boredom and tease of the pedestrian LAUREL CANYON.

Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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