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Legendary record producer Jane (Frances McDormand) is working on a new album at her Laurel Canyon house and studio for a British band whose lead singer Ian (Alessandro Nivola) is her latest - and much younger - lover. When her recently graduated medic son Sam (Christian Bale) arrives to stay, with his girlfriend Alex (Kate Beckisnale), also from Harvard medical school, he doesn’t expect Jane to be there. While the young lovers look for a permanent apartment, their emotional lives are thrown into chaos by the clash of cultures that Sam and his mother represent, threatening every relationship in the Laurel Canyon house.

Review by Louise Keller: 
It may sound like a woman’s name, but in fact Laurel Canyon is a Los Angeles street that is home to some of the music industry’s funky. Separating the middle class conservatives from the unbridled excesses of the uninhibited, this is the setting for Lisa Cholodenko’s film about attitude, lifestyle and relationships. 

Frances McDormand’s forty-something groupie and record producer Jane is a formidable character, enjoying an unapologetic debauchery of a life immersed in sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. In fact, Jane with her lusty free spirit and wild shock of blonde hair is the antithesis of McDormand’s prudish mother in Almost Famous (‘Don’t take drugs!’), and her performance once again rings true. 

Life is a never-ending party with plenty of laughs and loads of spontaneity. Not so for her son Sam, who not only cringes at the very thought of his mother, but apologies for her. “She’s weird; I don’t want you to be surprised,” he tells his fiancée. The worlds of conservatism and excess collide head on as Sam and fiancée Alex move in with Jane and her rock band. 

But this is Jane’s world, and it is Sam who is the outcast. As Alex is seduced by the novelty of this relaxed and unconventional lifestyle, her relationship with Sam changes and the wedge of strain comes between them. In the meantime, Sam finds solace in sharing his daily work issues with beautiful medical student Sara, who has no compunction whatsoever in showing her feelings. 

Cholodenko lures us from one world to the other: from the restrained conservatism to the decadence of life with no boundaries. The best part about the film is the characters, even though Sam and Alex are not exploited to their fullest potential. All the performances are superb – Christian Bale’s enigmatic Sam who is struggling to come to terms with his mother’s chosen life; Kate Beckinsale’s Alex who tip-toes into the hot water of experimentation; Allesandro Nivola’s playful rock-star Ian; Natascha McElhone’s vulnerable Sara. 

Music weaves its way through the film like a bond between the characters, but it’s the relationships that lie at the heart of the film, and none more complicated and fascinating than that of mother and son. While this is not the kind of film that demands a resolution, the way the characters evolve is mostly satisfying – perhaps things are clearest at the most unlikely of moments.

Published May 20, 2004

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CAST: Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Natascha McElhone, Alessandro Nivola, Lou Barlow, Russell Pollard, Imaad Wasif, Mickey Petralia, Melissa De Sousa

DIRECTOR: Lisa Cholodenko

SCRIPT: Lisa Cholodenko

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes



DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: April 28, 2004

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