Laurel Canyon

Subscribe to Frances McDormand alerts

Facts and Figures

Run time: 103 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 5th June 2003

Box Office USA: $3.6M

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Production compaines: Sony Pictures Classics, Antidote Films, Good Machine

Reviews 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Fresh: 75 Rotten: 35

IMDB: 6.5 / 10

Cast & Crew


Producer: Susan A. Stover, ,

Starring: Frances McDormand as Jane, Christian Bale as Sam, Kate Beckinsale as Alex, Natascha McElhone as Sara, Alessandro Nivola as Ian McKnight, Lou Barlow as Fripp, Russell Pollard as Rowan, Imaad Wasif as Dean, Mickey Petralia as Mickey, Melissa De Sousa as Claudia, Alexandra Carter as Darla, Michelle DeMirjian as China, Rick Gonzalez as Wyatt, Dennis Howard as Mr. Elliott, Catherine McGoohan as Mrs. Elliott

Laurel Canyon Movie Review

What a shock: There's licentious sex going on up here in the Hollywood Hills. I say "up here" because Laurel Canyon, Sunset Blvd., etc. is my 'hood. So, to those who might take the events of this movie as a generalized portrayal of the area, let me assure you that it's strictly on a lot by lot basis. These hills are crawling with people from the movie and music industries, some of whom might actually resemble the characters of Laurel Canyon. Double shock.

This intimate drama (by director Lisa Cholodenko) deals with the effect a liberal living standard might have on a young, impressionable, Harvard graduate with a conservative nature and great looks. She's Alex (Kate Beckinsale), the fiancé of Sam Bentley (Christian Bale), who needs to come to Los Angeles to complete his residency at the renowned Hausman Neuropsychiatric Institute. The move to a quiet hillside home will enable Alex to complete her dissertation on Drosophila Genomics, the world of chromosomes and centimorgans applied to the reproductive aspects of the fruit fly. No dummy, this lady.

The plan is to stay at Sam's mother's place on Hollywood Way, off Laurel Canyon Blvd. while she, Jane Bentley (Frances McDormand), a successful record producer with a hippie lifestyle, is at her Malibu pad. But plans have a way of going awry in this household. Jane has given the Malibu house to her ex-lover and has remained in the Hollywood home, a property with swimming pool and recording studio, working to complete her new boyfriend's album.

Disappointed in his mother's laissez faire, unapologetic attitude, Sam tasks Alex with finding a rental house while he spends his workdays in residence at the medical institute, where he meets the attractive co-resident Sara (Natascha McElhone). While this leads to certain temptations for Sam, they're nothing compared to where Alex is going.

Without Sam around, Alex becomes so fascinated by pleasure seeking Jane and Ian McNight, her sexually opportunistic younger boyfriend and the lead singer of the group, that she abandons her studies, feints her efforts to find alternate lodgings, and embarks on a course of behavior that leads to a menage à trois and a rather total betrayal of her unsuspecting fiancé.

The questionable character behavior and the avoidance of consequence (with a copout ending) for what would and should be life-changing, relationship-adjusting acts, are story weaknesses -- the acts depict exceedingly reckless choices for such smart people. First of all for Alex, who takes a direction that seems not likely to be part of her character possibilities, dramatic though it may be. The dissolution of her moral values is the core of the drama, raising the ante for its persuasiveness. Secondly for Jane, who, for all her freewheeling ways, is a complex and vulnerable person with considerable intelligence and control. Before she would engage in forbidden sexual fruit, she might be expected to balance it against the betrayal of her own son, for whom she avows her constant motherly love. Would she so readily abandon that for a little instant gratification?

Despite the insistent prurience in the writing, the performances are pro and much production value is accomplished on a modest budget. We've never before seen McDormand as a self-indulgent woman of tight jeans and bleached hair -- a gal so far away from her "sheriff" in Fargo or her "mother" in Almost Famous that you're reminded of what acting skill is all about. Pert Londoner Beckinsale shows some departure from the safety of primmer roles, such as her Nurse Lt. Evelyn Johnson in Pearl Harbor, though she does her three sex scenes here with a fastidious lack of nudity. Bale plays Sam with convincing emotional injury while struggling against temptation, providing the sympathetic rock we cling to, and leaving us with a desire to see more of this actor's capable naturalness.

Cholodenko, with credits for directing episodes of Six Feet Under and Homicide: Life on the Street, TV series, previously wrote and directed High Art in 1998. Her arousal of emotional fireworks when disparate lifestyles and values clash, with the attempt to draw in the vulnerability under everyone's skin to balance the battle, portend creative product ahead that will be worth watching for.

Since this town provides star sightings as regularly as Lotto winners, I'm going to be especially vigilant for Natascha McElhone driving down Laurel, as she does in the film. What an image to contemplate. And, please, you folks who don't live here, don't take this steamy romp for a representation of Hollywood life. You hardly even see any hippies around here anymore.

Rock on, Frances.


Subscribe to Frances McDormand alerts


Laurel Canyon Rating

" Good "


More Frances Mcdormand

A Little Chaos Trailer

In the palace of Versailles, a tremendous garden is maintained. One day, the builder and head gardener sees an ordinary woman arriving at the palace,...

Damien Rice - My Favourite Faded Fantasy Album Review

The solo career of Mr Rice is not one you may realistically describe as that with which you may associate a prolific output. His is...

Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of Trailer

In the late 90's and early 00's, The Backstreet Boys were the most powerful boy band in the world. After discovering that they had not...

George The Poet - 1,2,1,2 (Dismantle Remix) Video

George The Poet unveils an audio for the Dismantle Remix of his single '1,2,1,2', taken from the tracks Remixes EP. The track has been produced...


Perfume Genius - Too Bright Album Review

Ever since the release of his debut LP 'Learning' back in 2010, Seattle's Perfume Genius has attracted increasing attention both publicly and critically. His piano...

The Boys of St. Paul's Choir School - O Come All Ye Faithful Video

The angelic voices of The Boys of St. Paul's Choir School perform a moving rendition of classic Christmas carol 'O Come All Ye Faithful'.

Jamie Scott - Last Christmas Video

Jamie Scott of London duo GRAFFITI6 performs an acoustic rendition of Wham!'s 1984 festive single 'Last Christmas' in a black and white one-take video. In...

Christina Aguilera Ft. Brian McKnight - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Video

In 2000, Christina Aguilera recorded a collection of some of her favourite Christmas songs and the sessions resulted in the album 'My Kind of Christmas',...