A Music Filled Weekend
Well, not really, but I did see two music-themed films this weekend, Laurel Canyon
and a A Mighty Wind
, unfortunately, both films are disappointments in my view. Here are some short thoughts on both movies:
I only say that Laurel Canyon
was a disappointment, because I loved writer-director Lisa Cholodenko’s previous film, High Art
, and her newest film did not live up to it’s predecessor, which served to relaunch Ally Sheedy’s career for about a month and made heroin addiction seem sexy. But more importantly, High Art
had a languorous atmosphere of bohemian cool. Laurel Canyon
shares an acute sense of atmosphere, though instead of the cool New York chic, dominated by blues and grays, with the characters sitting around in a narcotic haze, we get all day music jams, and all night parties among decadent looking houses that cling to the sides of the sun-soaked mountains, perpetually on the verge of sliding into the abyss. The film captures the appeal of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, a trifecta that will continue to be popular because it can be really fun, something that many films seem to forget.
actually reprises certain story elements from High Art
, namely the older woman (Ally Sheedy, Frances McDormand) taking the repressed, ostensibly heterosexual, younger woman (Radha Mitchell, Kate Beckinsdale) under her wing, offering both tutelage in their respective arts and new sexual experiences (hey, I never thought I would actually see Frances McDormand and Kate Beckinsdale make out, but I guess I was wrong). An element that Laurel Canyon
actually improves on is the male characters; in High Art
the male characters are clearly secondary to the more colorful female characters, but in Laurel Canyon
, Christian Bale’s character Sam, is a fully realized character and instrumental to the plot of the film.
The acting is the best part of the film, especially McDormand. As many critics have noted, she plays the polar opposite of her Almost Famous
character: smart, sexy, funny, profane, and a committed artist (well, she’s also somewhat irresponsible and flighty, but no one is perfect). Bale plays McDormand’s conservative son, who has a proverbial stick up his ass from years of trying to lead a “normal” and “responsible” life, in effect, he’s rebelling (in reverse) against his mother, who he calls “Jane” (sometimes quite sneeringly), by being an overachiever who tries to present a perfect facade. Despite being quite incompatible, he plans on getting married to the sheltered, mousy (until she takes her glasses off, that is) ingenue named Alex, played by Kate Beckinsdale, even though he finds himself drawn to a colleague, an Israeli psychiatric resident named Sara (Natascha McElhone). Rounding out the main cast members is the charming, roguish British musician Ian McKnight played by Alessandro Nivola, who has his sights squarely on both Jane and Alex.
It’s somewhat unfortunate, that with all the acting talent on display, as well as the ample atmosphere (I liked Cholodenko’s low key direction), that the story itself is so conventional. The central, strained relationship between mother and son end with something of a contrived reconciliation, as he loosens up (ironically, I think that his mother’s unconventionality makes Sam a better psychiatrist, as he is totally unfazed by the psychotic patients that he encounters on the job) and she accepts some sort of responsibility (not sleeping with your son’s fiancee is probably the best place to start), prompted by a previous night of melodramatic excess. Though technically Alex and Sam tearfully reconcile, the true future of their relationship is left in doubt, especially after a final call from Sara, who confesses her true feelings for Sam (queue up the obvious The Graduate
reference). An Ian, well, Ian is just Ian, as he floats in the pool across the length of the pool, in a reprise of one of the film’s funniest shots.
While Laurel Canyon
was a mixed bag, it was a good, solid movie, definitely worth seeing. However, A Mighty Wind
was pretty much a waste of my time. The hit to miss ratio of jokes, always problematic in my opinion when it comes to Guest’s films (while I really liked Best in Show
, I think that This is Spinal Tap
is a really overrated movie), definitely skewed to the later. I can count the number of times I laughed or even cracked a smile on one hand, with the jokes ranging from amusing (the cover albums of Mickey’s solo albums) to the very annoying (Ed Begley Jr.’s Scandinavian TV executive using a lot of Yiddish, Fred Willard who was just grating in this film, much like his appearances on Leno). However, unlike Joker, I thought that Eugene Levy was the best part of the film, and his storyline was the only one of real interest. I have to agree with Roger Ebert when he called the satire toothless, because, really the filmmakers are too affectionate towards folk music (the music was actually pretty decent) and it’s associated scene to really do something juicy (uh, one character is an ex-porn star/cult member, another is a cross dresser, ooh, how daring). I also have to agree with Nathan Rabin from The Onion
; the film is overshadowed by sadness and melancholy (the film begins with an obituary and just goes from there), though unlike him, I did not think that this was a good thing, it just served to drain the comedy from the film and provided little else of benefit. Too many missed opportunities for my tastes.