Movie Reviews
1:54 pm
Thu April 17, 2003

Laurel Canyon

I just hope it is not too young in the year for everyone to remember this brilliant actress's Oscar-worthy performance.

When I thought yesterday about Nicole Kidman's terrific Oscar turn as Virginia Woolf In "The Hours," I was sure it would be a long time until another performance so moved me. Today I found the performance: Frances McDormand as an aging, randy, and still accomplished record producer in Lisa Cholodenko's "Laurel Canyon." She goes way beyond Marge In "Fargo" to fashion a likeable, unconventional mom living somewhere between Woodstock and Rodeo Drive.

McDormand goes through a variety of emotions from bitchy bliss when smoking pot calmly with the band she is producing to conflicted anguish when lovemaking with her son's (Christian Bale) girlfriend. She is the center of the film regardless of Kate Beckinsale and Natascha McElhone's (second-year resident, yearning for Bale) beauty and Alessandro Nivola's Brad Pitt-like seductiveness.

The stock story of McDormand's son and his girlfriend (Beckinsale) visiting mom in Laurel Canyon while he does his psychiatric residency and she her dissertation telegraphs the transformation in their conservative lives at almost every turn. The story is ultimately little more than a year of soap action on, say, "General Hospital." Only McDormand makes it all believable.

The rhythms of the recording sessions and McDormand's yearnings ring true. The clash between the establishment (young professional doctors) and the fringe (musicians) is underdeveloped. Overall, no new territory is reached except to witness McDormand.

I just hope it is not too young in the year for everyone to remember this brilliant actress's Oscar-worthy performance.