Laurel Canyon [2002]

When young psychiatrist Sam (Christian Bale), the son of record producer Jane (Frances McDormand), brings his girlfriend Alex (Kate Beckinsale) to stay at his mother's house, he's expecting that Jane will be gone--but a delay in finishing an album with a British rocker named Ian (Alessandro Nivola) has kept her there. Instantly, the tensions of Sam's counterculture childhood set off a series of betrayals and attractions that threaten to wreck Sam and Alex's relationship. Director Lisa Cholodenko has a keen eye for the behavior, delineating doctors and musicians by the ways they talk and greet each other--it's an almost anthropological study of different tribes. Laurel Canyon lacks the focused story of High Art, Cholodenko's previous movie, and some viewers may find the ways the characters change too subtle to be rewarding; but for others, the rich, detailed performances will be a pleasure worth having. --Bret Fetzer

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