by Marcy Dermansky
It's all about Frances McDormand.
In "Almost Famous" she plays the worried mother with the famous missive "Don't Do Drugs." In Lisa Cholodenko's "Laurel Canyon," McDormand does a complete about face. She's the rock'n-roller: a famous record producer who indulges in drugs, free love, and melon juice. She's a Mom once again, but this time, she does not devote her existence to her grown-up, resentful straight-laced son, Sam, who has arrived from the East Coast to start his residency at a nearby Los Angeles hospital.
It's great fun to see McDormand let loose as Jane. In one memorable scene, she swills whiskey sours, naked in the swimming pool with her much younger lover Ian, an English pop star played by the dreamy Alessandro Nivola. The steam rises from the water as Sam's fiancée Alex (Kate Beckinsale) looks on at the lounging couple with unmistakable longing. It's a gorgeous tiled swimming pool, bordered by exotic cacti, and I couldn't help but be entranced by the seemingly easy, glamorous life onscreen, set in the artsy hills of Laurel Canyon. So it's no surprise that Alex, the quiet Ph.D. candidate fiancée, gets swept up in Jane's world. You know there's going to be trouble from the moment they arrive, but that does not make the trouble any less fun.
"Laurel Canyon" is candy for the eye. The repressed Kate Beckinsale
lets down her hair, Christian Bale gets tempted by fellow resident Sara
(Natascha McElhone, who also has long lustrous locks), and Frances McDormand
(her hair always down, blond, loose and wavy) gets to do the adult thing
without a big moral compromise to bring down our high spirits.
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