Laurel Canyon

The people and events in Laurel Canyon are a carefully constructed house of cards designed to collapse given any sort of tension, and writer/director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art) is more than happy to do this. She fills the movie with characters that are familiar, because they already appeared in numerous other similar movies. The older hippie questioning her ideals, the uptight son rebelling against his mother, the hedonistic rock star, and the uptight, conservative student long due for an awakening all appear here. Most notable, in a very amusing fashion is Christian Bale (Reign of Fire, Equilibrium). Bale bears more than a passing resemblance to Noah Wyle. Both have appeared in films, although Bale is arguably doing a better job of choosing roles and broadening his abilities. Here, Bale is Sam, who plays (gasp!) a medical resident. Let the confusion begin!

Sam and his fiancee Alex (Kate Beckinsale, Serendipity, Pearl Harbor) are in Los Angeles for the summer. Sam has a prestigious residency, and Alex is working on her dissertation. They are going to live in Jane (Frances McDormand, The Man Who Wasn't There, Almost Famous) house in Laurel Canyon. What they do not expect is that Jane will be there too. Jane is a record producer, and is finishing an album for a band led by Ian (Alessandro Nivola, Jurassic Park III, Timecode). Sam couldn't be any more different than Jane. She is a child of the hippie era. She smokes joints, believes in free love, and lives how she wants. Sam and Alex are people with goals. They are stuffy, uptight, and dress in matching khakis and sweaters. Jane and Ian are like nothing that sheltered Alex has ever seen before. It's pretty easy to figure out what happens. Especially when Sam meets Sara (Natascha McElhone, Solaris, FearDotCom), an attractive second year resident that works at the same hospital he does.

The lack of originality in the story does not belie the good acting, especially from McDormand. Jane is a smart woman, and she is beginning to realize that she needs to move on. There is a time to have fun, and a time to grow up. The other actors are doing what they can with the script, which provides them with some meaningful dialogue, but is otherwise surprisingly mundane. McElhone suffers the worst, since she is nothing more than the hot woman with an accent. As for Nivola, hey, he does all the singing his character does, including a nice song entitled "Shade of Honey" that would sound good on the radio if any station would actually play it. That probably won't happen, due to the state of radio today, which, coincidentally, Jane rails against.

Laurel Canyon feels too contrived to seem deep. This is one of those films where everybody's lives change over the course of a day, a week, or however long it takes for things to happen. Alex finds herself drawn to the rock star lifestyle of Ian, and the carefree life of Jane, which causes much tension with Sam. The hardest thing to believe is how Sam and Alex are still together in the first place. What they go through here is not that radical, and makes their relationship seem all the more superficial. They are together just so that Cholodenko can have them potentially break apart.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 41 minutes, Rated R for language, sexuality, and drug use.

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