Laurel Canyon

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner24/11/2003

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 103 mins

Average drama that’s saddled with some hilarious Dodgy Acting Moments – it’s only Frances McDormand’s performance that earns it that third star.

The initial pitch for Laurel Canyon (uptight couple start to unwind as a result of rock’n’roll mother) makes it sound a little bit like American Beauty meets Almost Famous. However, despite its decent cast, Laurel Canyon is deeply average and isn’t really on the level of either of those two films. In fact, without the presence of the wonderful Frances McDormand it would actually be quite bad.

Married And Uptight

Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale play Sam and Alex, a newly married couple, both recent graduates of Harvard medical school. Both conservative and a little uptight, they move to Los Angeles in order to complete their studies, expecting to stay in Sam’s record producer mother Jane’s (Frances McDormand) house on Laurel Canyon (the ‘bohemian’ area of L.A., or as close as L.A. gets to bohemian), which she’d promised them would be empty.

However, when they arrive, they discover that Jane is still there, working on the latest album of her much younger boyfriend Ian (Alessandro Nivola). Begrudgingly, Sam and Alex agree to stay until they find somewhere else and – hey! - they both find their previously tightly-controlled lives starting to unravel a little.

For Alex, this means becoming increasingly attracted to both Jane and Ian, whereas for Sam, it means a potentially dangerous friendship with attractive Iranian (IRANIAN?!?) student Natascha McElhone. (Do the words ‘Natascha McElhone’ cause you to groan every time you see them on the credits of a film? If they don’t, they should.).

Worst Iranian Accent Ever

For the most part, the acting is okay (McElhone excepted, who turns in the Worst Iranian Accent Ever). Nivola turns in a surprisingly good ‘British’ performance as well as actually singing all the songs in the film and Beckinsale is pretty as always, but the film suffers because her character is a little boring.

There are, however, some excruciating Dodgy Acting Moments, which threaten to derail the film completely. One is the “emotional” reconciliation between Alex and Sam, which basically involves both actors shouting at each other – both Beckinsale and Bale are quite ‘cold’ actors and neither of them are really suited to big emotional scenes. Consequently the scene is almost embarrassing to watch. The other awful scene (as badly written as it is acted) is McElhone’s attempted seduction of Bale.

The saving grace of the film is Frances McDormand’s performance – she’s both funny and pretty much the only really likeable character in the film. The screen genuinely lights up every time she appears. However, even she looks a little uncomfortable in the main seduction scenes.

In short, Laurel Canyon is watchable thanks to McDormand, but nothing really special.

Film Trailer

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Content updated: 20/01/2020 22:20

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