Laurel Canyon
(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)

     I've been anxiously waiting to see Laurel Canyon ever since I first saw the trailer which seems like eons ago.  So, my expectations were high going in, always a dangerous way to see a movie.  But, what a relief, it was good.  It was more than good.  Of course, Frances McDormand is on my top ten list of actors who can be reading from the phonebook for all I care.  She is a joy to watch anytime.  In Laurel Canyon, McDormand plays a famous rock music producer, for whom the sixties are still a way of life.  Her almost estranged son (Christian Bale) gets a psychiatric position in L.A. and arranges to stay in his mother's house thinking that she won't be there.  He arrives with his fiancee (Kate Beckinsale) in tow only to find McDormand still ensconced in the house along with the band she is recording.  The lead singer in the band (Alessandro Nivola) is also her current main squeeze.  Soon, they are one big happy family, with Bale off to work each day with his beautiful co-worker (Natascha McElhone) while Beckinsale stays at the house to work on her Ph.D. dissertation.  As anyone who has written a Ph.D. thesis could have predicted, it isn't long before Beckinsale is so bored out of her skull that she starts spending all her time smoking up with mom and the band in the recording studio much to her fiance's chagrin.  Some interesting combinations and recombinations of our five main characters ensue.
       I was a little concerned that my expectation level was too high at the beginning of Laurel Canyon.  But it settles down quickly and takes off. This is the second film written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Her first film, High Art, got a lot of Indie awards.  Three-fifths of the cast (McDormand, Bale and Nivola) are really great.  The other two (Beckinsale and McElhone) aren't bad but they just can't play with the big boys.   In addition, McElhone has one of the worst accents ever.  Actually, it wasn't a bad Russian accent but unfortunately her character was an Israeli.  McElhone is English.  Bale is Welsh and plays an American.  Beckinsale is English and plays an American.  Nivola is American and plays, you guessed it, an Englishman.  Only McDormand gets to play someone from her own country. Where was I? Oh ya. The cast is good and very good looking.  McDormand, Bale and Nivola make the sparks fly through the whole movie.  OK, McDormand is always great and won an Oscar for Fargo.  Bale has been around since he was twelve (Empire of the Sun) and made a big splash with American Psycho.  But Alessandro Nivola? Who's he? He's been knocking around for a while in small parts but I never noticed him. You will notice him in this movie.
     Laurel Canyon has got a little of everything and has a nice pace that carries you through the movie.  Even though Laurel Canyon has been released so early in the year, that it is certain to be forgotten at Oscar time, It is the first film on my 2003 top ten list.  It is just starting to  go into general release so look for it where you live and go to see it.