review for Laurel Canyon on AllMovie

Laurel Canyon (2002)
by Andrea LeVasseur review

Lisa Cholodenko's sophomore film Laurel Canyon has a similar premise to her first feature High Art: A beautiful and intelligent good girl is lured into a wild lifestyle by an older, bolder woman. This time the catalyst is Frances McDormand in the juicy role of successful L.A. record producer Jane, convincingly devious with her infectious grin, tight leather pants, and awe-inspiring macho sexuality. It's unfortunate that the movie was not about her; she's frequently reduced to the background so that the predictable story of the uptight, humorless couple can unfold. As studious Alex, Kate Beckinsale is an appropriately bland foil to the obviously appealing McDormand and her immature younger lover, Ian (Alessandro Nivola). In a parallel story line, Christian Bale does his best as the restrained dullard Sam by thwarting the advances of sultry med student Sara (Natascha McElhone). However, his repressed anger about his unconventional childhood seems contrived since McDormand comes off as so interesting. Seen in photographs with Joni Mitchell, telling off uppity corporate label types, and flashing her braless chest to the band -- Jane is a sad, fascinating survivor with conflicts in dire need of exploring, instead of just serving as a representative for a cliché Southern California lifestyle of constant temptations. The musical score also seems to suffer from a lack of examination, despite its relevance to the narrative. Though it delivers an unsatisfying conclusion, Laurel Canyon is watchable for its well-photographed scenes of the gorgeous Bohemian estate and the excellent performance by McDormand.