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Thursday, May 1, 2003

Waking the McDormant

Movie: Laurel Canyon

Posted on Thu, May 1, 2003 at 4:00 AM

***
Our Rating: 3.00

This mediocre morality drama "Laurel Canyon" has been widely touted as a midlife coming-out party for newly self-sexualized actress Frances McDormand. Evidently, nothing says empowerment like playfully flashing your breasts from underneath a vintage KISS tour tee.

McDormand gets to do just that in her role as Jane, a middle-aged record producer holed up in a sun-dappled L.A. home with a snore-rock band whose album she is struggling to complete. Into the semidecadent fray walk Jane's son, Sam (Christian Bale), a stiff young psychiatrist-in-residence, and his wife, Alex (Kate Beckinsale), a fellow med-school grad trying to complete a dissertation on Drosophilia Genomics. Sam is visibly repulsed by his mother's eternal adolescence, but Alex develops a curious attraction to the bacchanalian lifestyle maintained by Jane and her slap-happy studio ducklings. There's copious drug intake to get in on. And free-swinging sexual experimentation. Plus, they've got a pool.

The Freudian HTH gets pretty thick from there on in, but McDormand, as always, is a paragon of actorly virtues. She completely nails the persona of a successful music producer: chummy enough to keep her clients relaxed, yet able to crack the whip in moments of 11th-hour aimlessness. What writer/director Lisa ("High Art") Cholodenko doesn't realize is that, from a motivational standpoint, recording musicians are just about the least interesting people on the face of the planet, second only to ... recent med-school graduates. How far can you follow the psychosexual exploits of folks you aren't all that drawn to in the first place? About halfway down Laurel Canyon, as it turns out.

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