Retro Review: Laurel Canyon (2002)


Looks like the front of a Grand Theft Auto game….

Upon initially hearing the title of the film, I couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of familiarity. And then I realized, Laurel Canyon was the street name I’d always pass up on the way to Ohlone College. Both film and street name lead to destinations revolving around ideas and change. One would think Laurel Canyon elicited joy just as the road to Ohlone College did. Ironically enough, it didn’t; the enlightening theme of change couldn’t save Lisa Cholodenko’s banal indie.

Time and time again, there’s always that one movie that attempts to imbue its audience with a sense of ephemeral inspiration…only to fall flat on its face. Laurel Canyon, my dear darlings, would be that film. The film opens up with a sex scene involving a newly engaged couple, Sam (Christian Bale) and Alex (Kate Beckinsale). It’s clear from one another’s actions that one could foreshadow a reading of their possibly troubled relationship. The problem is that an average individual would not pay heed to this. The sex scene was simply a cheap shot of including sex for the hell of it. It’s as if the director thought, “hey, let’s have two hot people bang as a way of reeling in more viewers! But wait a minute, people will rage at me for that…Oh, wait, I know! I’ll incorporate foreshadow! That oughta shut ‘em up.” Yeah, nice job, Cholodenko.

“Anyone’s tolerable for a few weeks.”

Aaaaaanyways, since that kinda gave you an idea of how the next hour and forty-three minutes would be, don’t whine yet because there’s more. Released in 2002, the overall plot of Laurel Canyon involves Sam and Alex deciding to fly over to Sam’s mother’s home in the Laurel Canyon district of LA for the summer, hoping to flourish their careers. Problem is, when they arrive, turns out Jane’s (Frances McDormand) is still there. What’s more, Jane is a hip, liberal record producer intent on finishing up a “project” with her new British musician boytoy, Ian (Alessandro Nivola). The tale depicts a battle between Sam’s conservatism and Jane’s fast-paced, promiscuous, party-going life and the gradual unravelling of his and Alex’s relationship as their interests begin to spark elsewhere (*cough* cliché).

“We just hadn’t planned on a change of plan.”

Mother-in-law trying to bond with daughter-in-law…let’s see how that goes.

Towards the end, the possibility of accepting the craziness of life comes into play—that one cannot control their life, (nor the others included in it), and need to loosen up. Nothing too special.

The problem with the movie is that it could’ve worked. However, it ultimately took a cliché route of both theme and predictability. “The craziness of life” and the possibility of accepting it is what I got from this film…Ok, but couldn’t they have done a better job of exploiting this common theme?

“Are we ever gonna have a relationship?”

Furthermore, there is a lack of proper character development. Whilst there are no spoilers here, the only thing I could say is that a character simply does not jump from a Type A personality to Type B personality; there has to be a gradual bridge involved. Cholodenko did not do well on this.

“Listen, you should be with her if you want to.”

Bale ponders whether he made a mistake starring in this indie.

In addition to clichés, there is also the stereotype of an uncontrollable rocker mom no one knew how to deal with. There’s been out-of-control sons, daughters, etc. Having a crazy mom doesn’t exactly break into originality; Cholodenko should have done more with that idea.

Before y’all gang up on me, let me focus on the positive…. The music incorporated into the film was a great choice, as it had a calming, intriguing, alien-like quality about it. Similar to the pull Jane’s lifestyle had on Sam and Alex, the effect is replicated and applied towards the audience.

Positive number two: the cast, of course. Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, and Frances McDorand all played their roles well, (although Bale could’ve done a tiny bit better as bits of his original accent slipped out during an argument…)  Plus, who wouldn’t want to see Bale and Beckinsale together? Now that’s a unique duo—especially for Baleheads who’d willingly lap up whatever Bale has to offer.

“We’re having a relationship. Here we are—having it.”

Lastly, the cinematography. It was of average quality, however, there were some shots that definitely caught my eye. An example would be the beginning where Sam and Alex are driving up to his mummy’s place, the film is shot so the audience would travel alongside the couple, (kind of like a 2nd person perspective). It gives a homey feeling to the audience, as if they themselves had been through that neighborhood.

All in all, I felt as if the film could’ve succeeded with the themes it had, however, it had tried too hard in doing so and fell into the “cliche” category. Cholodenko had interesting ideas, but ultimately the wrong way in approaching them. Because of this, the film falls into a pit of the poisonous-craziness-of-life and the-drama-of-relationships archetype. It doesn’t elicit emotion and kinda makes you go *shrug* “meh” or “what was the point of this? Make me feel bad?”

Rating: R.

My words to you: Only watch it if you’re bored, in a really good mood, or a Christian Bale fan.

Final verdict: C

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