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Laurel Canyon is a 2002 American drama film written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko. The film stars Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Natascha McElhone, and Alessandro Nivola.

Laurel Canyon
Laurel canyon poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLisa Cholodenko
Produced byJeff Levy-Hinte
Susan A. Stover
Written byLisa Cholodenko
StarringFrances McDormand
Christian Bale
Kate Beckinsale
Natascha McElhone
Alessandro Nivola
Music byCraig Wedren
CinematographyWally Pfister
Edited byAmy E. Duddleston
Distributed bySony Pictures Classics
Release date
  • May 18, 2002 (2002-05-18) (Cannes)
  • March 7, 2003 (2003-03-07)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4,412,203


Sam (Christian Bale) and Alex (Kate Beckinsale) are a newly engaged couple who move to Los Angeles to further their careers. Sam is a recently graduated psychiatrist, starting his residency, while Alex, who comes from a very wealthy background, and is also an MD, is finishing her Ph.D. dissertation on genomics. The relatively strait-laced, upwardly mobile couple plan to stay at the vacant home of Sam's mother, Jane (Frances McDormand), a free-spirited record producer in the Laurel Canyon section of the City of Los Angeles.

In a change of plans, however, Jane is still around, recording an album with her British boyfriend, Ian McKnight (Alessandro Nivola), and his band. The film focuses in some depth on the challenge of trying to create successful pop music, showing work on two tracks (both actually written, and previously released, by the band Sparklehorse). Ian's bandmates are played by two noted indie rockers, bassist Lou Barlow and guitarist Imaad Wasif.[citation needed]

Jane and Ian are in the midst of a fiery romance, and both the producer and the band seem more interested in partying than finishing the record. Jane's presence is a source of consternation for Sam, as he and his mother have a somewhat strained relationship, due to their very different mindsets.

Alex, however, is intrigued by the new lifestyle options presented by her soon-to-be mother-in-law. Normally hardworking, Alex begins spending more time with the band and less time working on her dissertation. Her growing fascination with Jane and Ian leads to a scene where the three of them kiss one another while naked in the swimming pool.

Meanwhile, Sam finds himself attracted to Israeli fellow resident Sara (Natascha McElhone), who is unapologetically interested in him as well. They share one first kiss while returning from an informal interns' meeting, around the same time Alex has her first tryst with Jane and Ian in the pool. Some time later, while Alex attends Jane and Ian's party held in a crowded hotel suite to celebrate the band's new album release, Sam and Sara meet in a parking lot and, in a conversation filled with sexual tension, they declare their attraction for one another.

The situation strains Sam and Alex's relationship almost to the point of breaking by the end of the film. After the party has finished and the three of them are left alone in the suite, Ian tries to "finish" (in his words) his encounter with Alex and Jane, but the latter decides against it and the threesome does not take place. Upon returning home after his conversation with Sara, Sam decides to go to the hotel and discovers Jane, Ian, and Alex scantily-clad in the bedroom. In a fit of rage he repeatedly punches Ian, hits his mother with his elbow as she tries to split up the fight, and leaves the hotel, but Alex chases him down the street and professes her love for him.

The next morning, the situation seems back to normal again. But Sara phones Sam and tells him she can't control her heart, as opposed to what he told her the day before. Sam watches his surroundings, postpones any further conversation, and takes a moment of reflection. Credits run.



Cholodenko has said the film was inspired by Joni Mitchell's album, Ladies of the Canyon.[1] The script was workshopped at Sundance Institute's lab.[2]


Critical reception was mixed, with a 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 110 reviews and a consensus summary: "Though the movie itself is flawed, McDormand is fantastic as Jane."[3] Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the movie 2 stars out of a possible 4, writing: '"Laurel Canyon" is not a successful movie--it's too stilted and pre-programmed to come alive--but in the center of it McDormand occupies a place for her character and makes that place into a brilliant movie of its own. There is nothing wrong with who she is and what she does, although all around her actors are cracking up in strangely written roles.'[4]

The relationship between Alex and Jane earned the film a ranking of 56 on Autostraddle's list of the 102 best lesbian films of all time.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Cast & Crew: Lisa Cholodenko, Director/Screenplay". The Kids Are Alright. Focus Features. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  2. ^ Ross, Matthew (February 27, 2003). "The Mystique of The Hollywood Hills; Lisa Cholodenko on "Laurel Canyon"". Indiewire Features. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Now, An Updated Edition Of The 102 Best Lesbian Movies Of All Time". Autostraddle. 2017-02-14. Retrieved 2017-12-18.

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