By Merle Bertrand | March 9, 2003

Laurel Canyon, for those readers not familiar with Los Angeles geography, is a narrow winding highway that connects the suburban hell of the San Fernando Valley with Hollywood. The movie “Laurel Canyon” tries to mimic its namesake mountain roadway, taking its characters and their audience on a would-be curvy, up and down journey through the slalom course of complex relationships. Too bad this vehicle has a dead battery.
Sam (Christian Bale) and his fellow Harvard medical school graduate fiancé Alex (Kate Beckinsale) have set a course for a life of absolute upper class boredom. Sam is just beginning his first year as a resident, while Alex is in the process of writing her dissertation. Both are extremely good-looking, both are very intelligent, and both are boring as hell.
That’s all destined to change, however, when Sam and Alex arrive at the woodsy Laurel Canyon home of Sam’s mom, Jane (Frances McDormand), expecting to find it empty. Instead, Jane, a free-spirited, pot-smoking, tough-talking record producer who refuses to act her age, has left a longtime boyfriend and the beach house they shared, returning home before Sam and Alex’ arrival. As such, instead of the quiet hideaway Sam expected; one in which Alex could work on her paper while they looked for a place of their own, Sam and Alex stumble into a veritable three-ring circus. They discover that they must share the house with Jane and the twenty-something rock band whose record Jane is producing…and with whose lead singer, Ian (Alessandro Nivola) she’s sleeping.
At first distracted, then intrigued, Alex begins neglecting her work and hanging out with the band in the studio. There, she strikes up a dangerous flirtation with both Jane and Ian. Sam, meanwhile, struggles to fend off the attention of, and his own attraction to Sara (Natascha McElhone), a beguiling fellow resident. As the ever-more obvious sexual tensions rise, Sam and Alex struggle to hold their relationship together, while Jane seeks to re-connect with a son who just doesn’t get her.
Would that “Laurel Canyon” was as interesting as this synopsis makes it sound. Alas, it’s not. Instead, director Lisa Cholodenko’s tepid melodrama is an exercise in boilerplate storytelling, wooden writing and stereotypical, one dimensional cardboard characters. And it’s as dull as its young couple protagonists.
Not even a game McDormand can save this cliché-riddled, pedestrian affair; her “shocking” girl/girl kiss with Beckinsale and gratuitous flashing of her breasts notwithstanding. Rife with predictability and lacking any originality whatsoever, the lackluster “Laurel Canyon” demonstrates about as much depth as one of Ian’s pop songs.

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