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The Films of Lisa Cholodenko

High Art

Laurel Canyon (July 19/03)

Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, Laurel Canyon follows upwardly mobile couple Sam (Christian Bale) and Alex (Kate Beckinsale) as they reluctantly agree to move into his mother's (Frances McDormand's Jane) home until they find their own place - with problems ensuing as Jane's bohemian ways start to rub off on both Sam and Alex. Cholodenko has infused Laurel Canyon with a deliberate pace that's exacerbated by a distinct lack of plot, yet the filmmaker does such a fantastic job of establishing the mood of this specific place that it is, to a certain extent, easy enough to overlook the film's faults. Along with cinematographer Wally Pfister, Cholodenko takes Jane's mansion and turns it into a world in itself; the scenes set there have a dreamy quality to them, while everything else has a decidedly harsher edge. But the film is perhaps too laid back in its execution, which effectively prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting with the material. And while there's no denying that we've come to really know these characters by the time the end credits roll, McDormand's Jane remains the only figure that's fleshed out to a degree that makes sense. As such, Alex's speedy transformation from bookish introvert to weed-smoking hippie is somewhat unconvincing, to say the least - yet Sam's arc, which involves his dalliance with a fellow doctor (Natascha McElhone's Sara), is a bit easier to swallow simply because it's more plausible (ie it's easy enough to buy the fact that Sam would be tempted to stray as a result of Alex's radical personality shift, but it's a little more difficult to accept that Alex would be willing to participate in a threeway with her boyfriend's mother). Having said that, the film is essentially worth checking out if only for the performances and Cholodenko's admittedly steady directorial hand. And the music's not bad, either.

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The Kids Are All Right (August 1/10)

The fourth film from writer/director Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right follows siblings Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) as they decide to learn more about their biological father (Mark Ruffalo's Paul) - much to the initial chagrin of their gay parents (Julianne Moore's Jules and Annette Bening's Nic). There's little doubt that The Kids Are All Right is at its best in its early scenes, as filmmaker Cholodenko has infused the movie with an easygoing, low-key sensibility that effectively heightens the inherently fascinating nature of its premise. It's just as clear that the uniformly stirring performances play a key role in initially capturing the viewer's interest, with the authenticity of the familial dynamic between the four leads certainly going a long way towards creating (and maintaining) the film's atmosphere of irresistible realism (and this is to say nothing of Ruffalo's effortlessly engaging turn as the perpetually laid-back Paul). Cholodenko's reliance on increasingly conventional elements ensures that The Kids Are All Right runs out of steam somewhere around its midway point, however, and there's little doubt that the comparatively plot-heavy final half hour is simply not as compelling or intriguing as everything preceding it. That said, the film recovers for a satisfying and surprisingly moving conclusion that's made all-the-more emotional by the strong work from the various performers (Bening has probably never been quite as good as she is here).

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© David Nusair