Starring some of the best character actors working today, this underappreciated portrait of bohemian life in LA is an appropriate antidote for the horror stories to emerge during the #MeToo movement. Offering a feminist slant on the music industry, Laurel Canyon (2003) depicts the peculiarities of art, love and family.
Psychiatrist Sam (Christian Bale) and his PhD student fiancé Alex (Kate Beckinsale) relocate to Los Angeles where he begins his residency at a nearby hospital. Staying in the house of his record producer mother Jane (Frances McDormand) acts as a point of contention for Sam, due to their strained relationship and opposing lifestyles. While Jane procrastinates over finishing a record with her lover and musician Ian McKnight (Alessandro Nivola), Alex is slowly drawn into a libertine world of rock and roll.
The world of Laurel Canyon is its own bubble and Jane is at the centre of a lifestyle which is completely alien to Alex. Jane’s house is a character in its own right, filled with evidence of her thriving career and complete with a private recording studio. Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko’s playful direction makes this subculture come alive, be it through a toy boat whizzing past a group of partiers or steam rising from the pool as Alex dips her toe into Jane’s muddied waters.
Cholodenko emphasises the power dynamics between the couples as love triangles form within their idyllic surroundings. Ian would like to appear a free spirit, but it is clear Jane calls the shots and can easily dismiss him as just another notch in the bedpost. His place as both her lover and client allows for an intriguing duality in their relationship, encouraging them to be refreshingly open with one another as they struggle to grow. It is understandable why Alex is willingly seduced by the pair, prompted to boldly explore her own desires while Sam drowns in hypocrisy. He consistently alleges to have the moral high-ground over his mother yet is left dumbstruck when tempted by the unashamed advances of co-worker Sara (Natascha McElhone).
Tackling self-expression, infidelity and bisexuality, Laurel Canyon is a subtle work that reserves judgment on its characters so they can accept their flaws in order to evolve.