Laurel Canyon

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Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Natascha McElhone
Director: Lisa Cholodenko

LAUREL CANYON is a pleasing little drama about relationships between characters whose personalities are poles apart. It is blessed with intermittent doses of irreverent humour which ensure that it is a more than reasonable option if one is looking for 100 minutes of mildly diverting entertainment. The film takes its name from a bohemian residential area of Los Angeles which is home to freewheeling music producer Jane (Frances McDormand) and her purpose-built recording studio. Jane’s most recent project has been to produce an album for a British band whose singer, Ian (Alessandro Nivello), also happens to be her latest lover; and although she has allowed her reserved and serious son, Sam (Christian Bale), and his equally conservative fiancee, Alex (Kate Beckinsale), free run of the place when they visit from the East Coast, the sudden need to prolong the band’s recording sessions makes for plenty of uncommon diversions for the uptight Harvard graduates.

Whilst Sam is undertaking his medical residency at a local hospital Alex is ostensibly completing her dissertation in their room. However, she finds that she is increasingly distracted from her laptop by the playful antics of Jane, Ian, and the band. Sam, meanwhile, has met beautiful fellow resident Sara (Natascha McElhone) and the two of them soon discover that they are compelled by a strong mutual attraction. Thus Sam and Alex find themselves struggling to maintain the balanced gravitas of their relationship whilst the catalyst for their unease – the dope-addled and insouciant Jane and Ian – continue to indulge their careless hedonism with little regard for those around them.

LAUREL CANYON continues a recent cinematic trend for addressing the legacy of rock music’s formative years and the heady lifestyle it encouraged (THE BANGER SISTERS, ALMOST FAMOUS, STILL CRAZY). However, some aspects of its portrait of this most avowedly self-centred world do jar slightly: Jane is very much an old school West Coast rock chick and, as such, her relationship with Damon Albarn-alike Ian does not ring true. In fact, why make the band British at all? They are played by that most American of indie outfits Folk Implosion, and the songs are written by fellow countryman and lo-fi aficionado Mark Linkous (lyrics about leaving one’s “baby on the highway” ain’t very Britpop). The impression that things are slightly mismatched is further enhanced by casting American actors as Brits, British actors as Americans, and McElhone inexplicably donning an Israeli accent. But despite these puzzling role-reversals LAUREL CANYON is redeemed by the sprightly sparring of the lead actors and the refreshingly open-ended, almost existential, final action of the film.

4 out of 6 stars