Playing like a feature-film continuation of Family Ties, Lisa Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon (opens Friday, April 11, at the Little) pits a free-spirited mother against her uptight, conservative, and --- yes --- perpetually embarrassed 21st century version of Alex P. Keaton. Because the mom, and the film itself, is all about sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, it's either ironic or just plain kooky that she's played by Frances McDormand, who was dead-set against those virtues in Almost Famous.
Canyon is, as one would expect, set in that titular part of the Hollywood Hills --- more specifically, in the very attractive bungalow owned by a legendary record producer named Jane (McDormand). It's the destination of Jane's son, Sam (Christian Bale), and his fiancée, Alex (Kate Beckinsale), who have both recently graduated from Harvard Medical School. Sam, a wannabe shrink, has been awarded a prestigious fellowship at an LA hospital, while Alex is looking forward to peace and quiet so she can work on her dissertation about the reproduction of fruit flies.
But there's little solitude at the house when Sam and Alex get there. His mom, who was supposed to be living in her Malibu digs, still hasn't finished up her latest recording project. So Sam has to contend with his loopy mother and the perpetual presence of an up-and-coming Brit band, out of which she's desperately trying to coax a big hit single. As if that weren't enough, Jane is banging the band's lead singer, Ian (Alessandro Nivola --- the rest of the band, by the way, is played by Lou Barlow and his new Folk Implosion).
With his fellowship occupying most of his time, Sam pleads with Alex to look for new, temporary housing while she's working on her paper. Alex, however, finds herself being slowly seduced by the trippy and opulent goings-on at Chez Jane. You know those people who studied hard in high school, so they could get into a good college, so they could get into medical school, so they could get good jobs, but now half of their lives are over and they haven't done anything fun yet? That's Alex. And not to be outdone, Sam isn't quite sure what to do about his attraction to a co-worker (Natascha McElhone, who reprises her Truman Show role as The Girl Who Screws Everything Up).
"Where could all this be going?" you might wonder. Sadly, the answer is "Nowhere." These characters are more defined than we're used to seeing in most films, but that doesn't make them any more enjoyable to watch. Unless that's the point --- I didn't like or even come close to sympathizing with any of them. Not one could be considered a protagonist or an antagonist. Writer-director Cholodenko (High Art) definitely made them deeply flawed and incapable of garnering the audience's respect for a reason, but I'm not sure what that reason was. People are dysfunctional --- we get it already. And shrinks who are too dumb to realize they're messed up? C'mon.
The acting as all relatively even, and not to be outdone by Renée, Richard and Latifah, Nivola does his own singing. But that just makes me think about Satisfaction. Where's Mallory when you need her?
Picking up where Punch-Drunk Love left off, Anger Management once again inserts a passive-aggressive Adam Sandler character into various situations that make him leap from mild-mannered drudge to raving lunatic that kicks in sliding glass doors. Where Love emphasized incongruous romance, Management highlights bizarre comedy, much the same way it was achieved in Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Sandler's Dave Buznik is a regular, unassuming nine-to-fiver who could probably complain about a few aspects of his life, but opts to accentuate the positive, instead. Dave is about to receive a big promotion at work and seems close to proposing marriage to his frisky poet girlfriend, Linda (Marisa Tomei).
If you've seen Management's trailer, you already know its funniest scene, which also happens to portray the moment in which Dave's life becomes unhinged. While flying to St. Louis on a business trip, Dave's quiet requests for a pair of headphones are mistaken for air rage (the repeated "This is a troubled time for our nation" line is pure gold). Found guilty of physically assaulting a flight attendant, Dave is sentenced to 20 hours of anger management therapy with the controversial Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson), whose unorthodox methods have made him a legend.
Instead of coasting through the treatment, the implosive Dave finds himself deeper and deeper in trouble with both his shrink and the law. A nasty bar fight almost lands him in the clink for a year, but Rydell convinces the judge to let Dave off with 30 days of intensive treatment, which involves the two spending every waking (and sleeping) moment together. And before you can say, "Those aren't pillows," Dave's life is turned upside-down by the constant presence of the psychotic Rydell.
While the last 15 minutes are crammed full of the inevitable corniness one must expect from a mainstream romantic comedy, even the slowest viewer should be able to see through Rydell's "treatment" (so Dave is angry and stupid). Management is full of odd cameos and features a very shocking (yet incredibly flat) rendition of Sandler's compulsory "You can do it!" motivational final-reel shout-out. That said, the film is likely to return Sandler to his pre-Love standing among the moviegoing majority. I just can't see anyone but Happy Gilmore fans digging on Woody Harrelson in drag, or Sandler and Nicholson dueting on selections from West Side Story.
Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.