Let's get some wine, some weed, some chicken, and go to the Hollywood Bowl

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis

                ďLaurel CanyonĒ isnít everybodyís favorite lunch, but like it or not, you wonít forget it.  Why?  Frances McDormandís subtle performance as an ex-hippie turned successful recording producer is a marvel of warring emotions that are alternately contained and unleashed.   When she lapses into silence, her eyes dart everywhere like radar picking up the shadow feelings of others in the room.  She misses nothing, assesses everything, and then makes a decision.  It is nearly impossible to watch anything else when McDormand is on the screen.  Her actions and reactions propel the film.

                In a telling beginning, we watch two very serious graduates of Harvard Medical School drive themselves and a few belongings cross country to California where Sam (Christian Bale) will undertake a prestige laden internship and Alex (Kate Beckinsale) will finish her dissertation on drosophila genomics (fruit flies).  They will stay in the house of  Samís mother, Jane Bentley (Frances McDormand). By the time they approach Janeís house, the fancy roadside mailboxes have given way to rows of rusty ones, the kind that belong to liberals.  Conservative Sam is frozen in the driverís seat.. 

                From Boston to L.A., Samís confidence has drained away as he explains his mother to Alex.  He has lived his whole life with the embarrassment of being the unexpected product of one of Janeís hippie sleepovers.  The cross-country trip is Samís obsessive effort to prepare Alex for the shock of meeting his mother.  Jane is neither repentant nor reconstructed. ďLetís get some wine, some weed, some chicken and go to the Hollywood Bowl.Ē  She is a woman who loves sex and success and has made sure she has plenty of both.  At the moment she and a British rock group are working in her home studio, searching for the single that will be the stand out in their new CD. 

 Jane and the much younger guitarist Ian (Alessandro Nivola) are lovers and leaders of this hedonistic slice of Hollywood life.  Sex, drugs, multiple partners, swimming pool, and a new release fill the days and nights.  Sam works all day at the hospital where he is eyed by a statuesque and out of place European colleague while studious Alex works upstairs.  In real life, women as beautiful as Alex are usually lured into some shallow ornamental life way before they make it to the dissertation.  Alex senses the excitement downstairs, and before long sheís in the pool with mom and the rock band.  And so it goes.

                Jane is a successful producer who knows rock music; she has created the perfect house for work and play.  She is the sole designer of her life.  Beckinsale and Bale may be pretty to the eye, but they are stiff in their propriety.  Jane canít be seduced into remorse or guilt or pleasing other people.   No big lessons here, just a great glimpse of a single, middle-aged woman who knows exactly how she wants to live and manages to do it. 


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