A heartbreaking tale of the dark side of Hollywood and the way life
doesn't always turn out as you expect to, "Mulholland Drive" is as
perplexing and ominous a motion picture as you're likely to ever see.
Innovatively written and directed by David Lynch (1986's "Blue Velvet,"
TV's "Twin Peaks"), the film is an even more baffling cinematic experience
than 1997's "Lost Highway," but is also more ambitious and complex.
Filmed in a nonlinear fashion that sets everything up as a pleasant
dream that quickly turns into a hellish nightmare, "Mulholland Drive"
leaves you with more questions than answers, but also a whole lot
to discuss, investigate, and debate about long after its unforgettable
journey reaches an end.
The film begins with an attempted murder on a pitch-black night on
LA's Mulholland Drive that turns fatal when a carload of partying
teenagers hits their limo. The targeted victim, a luscious brunette
beauty (Laura Elena Haring), is the sole survivor, and she stumbles
away from the wreckage seeking shelter in a gorgeous nearby apartment
that has been left empty by a vacationing actress. She is discovered
the following morning while taking a shower by the chipper Betty (Naomi
Watts), an Ontario native who has come to stay at her aunt's place
in Hollywood as she attempts to start an acting career. The woman,
who has no memory, tells Betty that he name is Rita after seeing a
poster for "Gilda," starring Rita Hayworth. Betty and Rita become
self-appointed detectives, as they decide to find out who Rita is
and what happened on Mulholland Drive.
In an interweaving storyline, a young, hotshot director named Adam
Kesher (Justin Theroux) is preparing to cast his latest picture. Although
several big name actresses are knocking on his door for the part,
mysterious forces begin inundating pressure on him to cast a new ingenue
named Camille, or pay the possibly deadly consequences.
This is the basic setup of "Mulholland Drive," although to give anything
else away is to, conflictingly, steal the pleasures of discovering
the film as it plays out, and to not give much away at all. Suffice
to say, roughly 105 minutes into the movie, something both shocking
and bewildering occurs that stands everything that has come before
on its head. Characters suddenly take the identities and personalities
of other characters, scene after scene abruptly cuts off before it
conventionally concludes, and the whole world becomes an alternate
reality where you're left unsure if any of the movie has been real,
or just a frightening, disorienting dream.
"Mulholland Drive" has been highly publicized to have originally started
off as a TV pilot that was rejected by the network. Foreign financier
Studio Canal offered Lynch $7-million to reshoot and further develop
the story into a complete feature film. Doing such a thing could have
proved horribly uneven, but the halves blend so seamlessly into a
whole that you would never be able to guess the history of the project
without already hearing about it.
An almost epic-sized picture with a huge cast of lead characters,
supporting ones, and memorable cameos, the movie offers scenes in
the first half that seem potentially unnecessary, as if Lynch has
decided to just shoot material that is freakily "out-there," but everything
masterfully and satisfyingly reemerges in the later sections, leaving
you giddy to see what the master filmmaker has up his sleeve next.
One such sequence, in which a nervous man tells his friend about a
horrifying nightmare he had the night before about the diner they're
eating in, only to minutes later see his fears come true in reality,
leads later on to a small, eerie blue box that is found by Betty and
Rita. What powers the blue box holds is best left undisclosed, but
it paves the way for the disturbing final 40 minutes.
As protagonists Betty and Rita, Naomi Watts (1998's "Dangerous Beauty")
and Laura Elena Harring (2000's "Little Nicky") are brilliant, giving
multi-layered performances that compliment the off-kilter, intricate
plot. Watts is, at once, innocent and bright-eyed, but has an obscure,
sexual side that is discovered as the film progresses and her intentions
change. Harring is just as boldly good, making Rita into a person
both scared out of her wits and curious of her forgotten, concussion-induced past.
Justin Theroux (2000's "American Psycho") is appropriately high-strung
and self-absorbed as rising filmmaker Adam Kesher, who suspects his
life may hang in the balance of who he decides to cast in his new
movie, after a strange meeting he has with a stranger named The Cowboy
James Karen (1999's "Any Given Sunday"), as a studio casting director;
Lori Heuring (2000's "The In Crowd"), as Adam's cheating wife; country
music singer Billy Ray Cyrus, as the man she is having an affair with;
Monty Montgomery, as The Cowboy; Robert Forster (2000's "Me, Myself
& Irene"), as Det. Harry McKnight; Dan Hedaya (2000's "The Crew"),
as a peculiar studio exec; Missy Crider (1995's "Powder"), as a waitress
whose name inexplicably changes from Diane to Betty; and Melissa George
(2001's "Sugar & Spice"), as debut actress Camille Rhodes, round out
the fine supporting cast. Finally, Rebekah Del Rio performs Ray Orbison's
"Cryin'" in a nightclub completely in Spanish, and it is such an overwhelmingly
powerful rendition that she leaves onlookers Betty and Rita in tears.
Mix in an elderly couple who have demented smiles plastered on their
faces at all times; a rotting corpse in a motel room whose identity
isn't fully discovered until the end; a wheelchair-bound midget (Michael
J. Anderson) in a glass room that listens in on the conversations
of movie studio bosses; and a psychic who comes to Betty's door speaking
of horrible things she senses are coming to either her or Rita, and
you have only just scratched the surface of the alternately inventive,
confusing, thought-provoking world that David Lynch has created here.
With a superb, offbeat music score by Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti,
"Mulholland Drive" is a masterpiece. What it all means is up to the
viewer to decide, and if your movie tastes can handle an unconventional,
direct assault of the senses and mind, you'll have an absolutely great
time trying to piece everything together. I know I did, and I'm still thinking about it.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman