Sunday, March 30, 2003

Laurel Canyon (IMDB) (Netflix)
Preachers' kids are the wild ones, so a bohemian record producer's son must be an uptight psychiatry student, and an uncomfortable L.A. houseguest. His fiance, on the other hand, finds this new setting most liberating, and from there the roux thickens. Frances (Fargo) McDormand is the wild mom, Christian Bale is the son with baggage, and Kate Beckinsale the tempted intended, with Allesandro Nivola as Charmer #1 and Natasha McElhone as Charmer #2. It's not exactly Temptation Island, but headed that way.

This situation could easily have become soap opera pulp, but writer/director Lisa Cholodenko excels at skirting the potholes, creating tension and releasing it at just the right moment, and getting great performances by the entirely competent cast. McDormand is the "it woman" of middle-aged actresses (her supporting performance stole the show in the wonderful and underseen Almost Famous). I particularly liked Bale's subtle choices, and Nivola's character can be read as "lovable rogue" (by the women in the audience) or "imminent threat" (by the men). McElhone apparently is the new Meryl Streep, unveiling a new accent for each role. While it's intentionally easy to see where the film is generally going, the journey is the entertainment, and the ending refreshingly ambiguous. A small film embedded with a lot of quality.