Related Articles: Movies, All

Laurel Canyon

Sex, Drugs and a Story

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be cool. Rock star cool. To have that certain je ne sais quois that makes you float on hipness. I'll never have it but I'm truly fascinated by those who do. The new film Laurel Canyon boasts an antagonist that emits coolness with every turn of the head.

Jane (Frances McDormand in yet another knockout role) is one of the most intriguing stoners to be shown on celluloid. She's a free-rolling record producer with enormous talent, a no bullshit attitude and a photo of Bruce Springsteen in the living room of her cushy pad perched in the woods of Laurel Canyon (a sleepy enclave) in Los Angeles. Her prudish, straight laced son Sam (Christian Bale), having just graduated from Harvard Med school, has just accepted a prestigious fellowship in psychiatry and is returning to L.A. with his equally prim fiancÚ Alex (Kate Beckinsale), a PhD candidate in a subject as dull as her family.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that Sam has major issues with his mother; indeed he seems to have developed his identity on the sole basis of being antithetical to everything she represents. At first glance Jane seems like the coolest mom in the world but then you realize that she just might be the type to forget you on the side of a highway during a cross-country family trip. And that can't be fun.

The young couple have plans to occupy Jane's home (she has a second in Malibu) but upon arrival realize that plans have changed and that she and the members of the raucous band- including her lover Ian (Alessandro Nivola), the fifteen years her junior lead singer- whose record she's in the midst of producing have established the home as their headquarters. Rock Stars and Squares - with this kind of combo Laurel Canyon could easily have been an exercise in sitcom hijinks and easy laughs. However, thankfully, it is not. It is a story about relationships and finding out who you really are.

The story is complex yet engaging; the characters are charming yet all too human. No one gets away easy in this film. For example, Ian is sleazy yet somehow sympathetic; he makes terrible choices and flirts with everything that breathes but he still seems like a good guy. Sam enters into a flirtation with a colleague, Sara (Natascha McElhone) and despite the fact that he's essentially cheating; the story treads the gray areas of life so skillfully that he's not demonized and pushed to the margins as "the bad guy".

This film oozes great character development. Instead of being products of some screenwriters' imagination, they become visceral creatures whose existence is palpable. Kudos to the entire cast for bringing such life and honesty to their roles. So much so that there are several moments in the film where you feel yourself telling the characters not to do what they are doing much like that in a horror movie when the audience tries to accost the actors on screen.

There's sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Plus, great characters and an engaging story - what more could you possibly want?


Laurel Canyon
Rated R
1 hour 41 minutes

Frances McDormand
Christian Bale
Kate Beckinsale
Alessandro Nivola
Natascha McElhone