Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Laurel Canyon

Laurel Canyon is a really dang good movie, but I have a feeling it will infuriate some people.

When the story begins Sam and Alex are moving from the east coast to the west coast; Alex is getting her PhD to go along with her MD and is working on her dissertation and Sam has earned a psychiatric residency at a prestigious southern California hospital. Sam’s mother Jane is a record producer and they will be staying in her lavish Laurel Canyon home while she is away having just finished a record. The problem is that when they arrive they discover that Jane has not finished her record and she (and therefore the band) are inhabiting the house. Thus begins the real problems – Sam hate the world his mother forced him to grow up in and doesn’t realize that Alex is utterly drawn to Jane’s world because it is utterly different than her own.

This movie truly is not carried by one member of the cast but all three of the leads. Frances McDormand, Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale are phenomenal under the direction of Lisa Cholodenko. While this is a very broad statement I do think this may be one of the best movies directed by a woman that I have seen in a few years. While a large chunk of how much I enjoyed this film can probably be attributed to the incredible talents of the cast Cholodenko’s skill shines through in everything from her music choices to the shots she chose to edit together. Perhaps it is merely my recent distaste of Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight talking but you can see the purpose behind ever shot that Cholodenko uses in a scene and they draw you further into the characters and the story. While this may seem like the most basic element of filmmaking you would be surprised to see how many people cannot do this well.

Part of what I like is that Laurel Canyon in my opinion raises questions about which character did the worse thing. You may assume Alex because she physically cheats (and who it happens with), Sam because he emotionally cheats or Jane because she enables all of this to happen. There is no way to truly calculate each parties guilt and through all the emotion and caring each person has for the others they still all messed up.

Perhaps the best thing about Laurel Canyon is how very real it feels. The open ending adds to this and is one of the primary reasons Laurel Canyon will divide audiences. Sam and Alex being the film in a nearly picture perfect relationship but by the end of the film they are not ready to walk blissfully into the sunset – in fact you don’t know where they characters would go once the film ends. The emotional turmoil that the characters go through in the movie makes you wonder what you would do in that situation and be very glad you are not in their shoes.

Director & Writer: Lisa Cholodenko
Jane: Frances McDormand
Sam: Christian Bale
Alex: Kate Beckinsale
Sara: Natascha McElhone
Ian McKnight: Alessandro Nivola

Alex: We just hadn't planned on a change of plan.
Jane: Well who plans on a change of plan? I mean, that would be sorta paranoid, don't you think?

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