Laurel Canyon
3 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
sw A superb cast, lovely direction and an intriguing storyline help make this otherwise fairly standard drama quite watchable. Sam and Alex (Bale and Beckinsale) have finished their studies at Harvard Medical School and are heading to stay with Sam's mother Jane (McDormand) in L.A., where Sam will start his residence and Alex will work on her doctoral thesis. But what Alex doesn't know is that Jane is a successful record producer with a rather loose and easy L.A. lifestyle--something Sam couldn't really warn her about. Jane's latest young boyfriend is Ian (Nivola), a British musician recording a new album in her poolside studio with his band (Barlow, Pollard and Wasif). And while Sam gets to know a colleague (McElhone) at the hospital, Alex enjoys this easygoing life a bit too much!

Writer-director Cholodenko has a terrific eye for capturing L.A. on screen, from the tricky geography to the laid-back lifestyle and cut-throat business culture. She also has a great ear for natural dialog that makes the film snap and spark as the characters interact in unusually realistic ways ... although like many films, they just refuse to really talk to each other until the histrionic finale! McDormand once again creates an unforgettable character in Jane, a woman without any real hang-ups, although we see the carefree mask slip at a couple of key moments. She shines in every scene, and makes the film hers alone, even though it's really about Sam and Alex. Bale is always compelling, and his interaction with the tempting McElhone is fascinating; while the rather bland Beckinsale gives her best-yet performance as a young woman struggling (and failing) to maintain self-control. While the plot itself is fairly standard East versus West Coast stuff, there's a rawness to the character interaction that makes the film well worth seeing. And it's full of wonderful throwaway moments that say much more than anything else in here.

cert 18 themes, language, sex, drugs 3.Sep.03

dir-scr Lisa Cholodenko
with Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Alessandro Nivola, Natascha McElhone, Louis Knox Barlow, Russell Pollard, Imaad Wasif, Melissa De Sousa, Marcus Ashley, Rick Gonzalez, Mickey Petralia
release US 7.Mar.03; UK 14.Nov.03
03/US 1h43

Ready to face the world ... or maybe not: Bale and Beckinsale.

mcdormand nivola mcelhone
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall