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Mulholland Drive

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Mulholland Drive

Starring: Robert Forster, Laura Harring
Director: David Lynch
Rated: R
RunTime: 147 Minutes
Release Date: October 2001
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Robert Forster, Justin Theroux, Brent Briscoe, Billy Ray Cyrus, Dan Hedaya, Ann Miller, Michael J. Anderson, Scott Coffey

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

As Burt Bacharach and Hal David advise in the song "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," "L.A. is a great big freeway/ Put a hundred down and buy a car/ In a week maybe two they'll make you a star/ Weeks turn into years and quickly pass/ And all the stars there never were are parking cars and pumping gas..."

"Mulholland Drive" puts those now overly-familiar lyrics into pictures. The movie, by one of the most inventive or American directors, is about a naive, perky, Doris-Day type of woman with short blond hair who travels to Hollywood from her native Ontario in search of stardom. What she finds is pretty much the fate of most women who seek fame and fortune in a industry that chews up women and spits them out. If that were all there is to Lynch's latest film--which blends the surreal with the actual--"Mulholland Drive" would be a pretty simple tale, but this movie, which is bound to be one of the most talked-about puzzlers of the year, is a complex one, one which despite its languid pace and 2-1/2 hour length does not overstay its welcome, and one which lends itself to perhaps four distinct interpretations.

Lynch, whose flamboyant "Blue Velvet," about a kinky nightclub singer and a sadistic drug dealer presents a look behind a Norman Rockwell American town; and whose "Lost Highway," about a jazz musician, suspecting that his wife is having an affair and becomes a suspect in her murder--are also tales that could be spun in simplistic ways but subject themselves to what is now known as Lynchisms. Lynchisms are stylistic touches fabricated by the 55-year-old creator of "Eraserhead," "Dune," and "The Elephant Man" among other unconventional works that make the man's films incomprehensible to some, repulsive to others, and brilliant to still a third group. This split pretty much sums up the reactions of critics who discussed the film after seeing an advance screening, comments running the gamut form "pretentious" to "a master stroke." My own view if that "Mulholland Drive" is a film to respect, one about which perhaps a small segment of the audience can become wowed while others (like me) can admire the originality and stylistic fetishes albeit without great enthusiasm.

"Mulholland Drive," which was chosen as the centerpiece to be presented at the 2001 New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, focuses on the astonishing Naomi Watts in the role of Betty, a sprightly blonde who arrives in Hollywood with stars in her eyes and a wish of luck from an elderly couple who have befriended her on the flight south but who laugh behind her back when she leaves. Taking a room lent to her by her aunt, she runs into a brunette woman perhaps a little older than she who calls herself Rita (Laura Elena Harring) but is suffering from amnesia which results from the shock of witnessing a fatal car accident which kills the man who is about to execute her. The picture opens with the perhaps most athletic dance contests ever shown on the screen followed by a loud crash of a head-on collision, but from there this character-driven piece becomes increasingly intricate, eerie, suspenseful and sexy as Rita and Betty, who at first share the latter's spacious digs under the watchful eye of manager Coco Lenoix (Ann Miller), become lovers.

To illustrate the way a multi-layered Hollywood power apparatus masticates all in its path, Lynch hones in on a film director, Adam Kosher (Justin Theroux), who at first refuses to cast an actress in his new film and is then persuaded by a man behind the scenes of the studio head (played by Dan Hedaya) to choose that gangster's favorite for the role. When Rita, realizing that she is still in danger and dons a blond wig over her brunette hair and makes love to her roommate Betty, we in the audience see the mutual dependence of the two personalities after which the film sinks arrestingly into a reality-meets-dream world of illusion and actuality. The big kick comes when the director does an about face, changing the identities of the women as the perky Betty's face mirrors her conversion to that of a woman possessed by envy, hatred, and downright evil inclinations. So good is Naomi Watts in the lead role, so convincing is her descent from Canadian small-time naivete into a thoroughly corrupted, even vicious demon, that her very conversion will inevitably cause the film world to debate and ponder what Lynch has in mind. My fondest hope is that Mr. Lynch does not mean for us to take any large part of his story as a character's dream-- in a dream, anything is possible: role reversals, fluid identities--so that we in the audience can accept any and all interpretations given our freedom to discard all logic. My own view is that the picture means primarily to illustrate the nature of power plays: Betty, helping Rita, makes herself beholden to the helpless brunette. The financiers, telling the director, "this is the girl," show their strength in determining how a picture gets made. Adam Kosher's discovery of his wife in bed with another man gives him an edge, but the reaction of the wife's muscular partner changes the picture. Add to this the notion that Betty is no more than name of the blonde than Rita is the name of her new friend. We are led to believe that "Betty" is merely the dream-like fantasy of one Diane Selwyn, who imagines herself an innocent femme seeking her way in Hollywood.

Peter Deming films the action with an emphasis on close-ups, focusing on the eyes of the two principal women as audience clues to their emotions, all backed up by Angelo Badalamenti's non-intrusive and effective score.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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