October 1, 2003
Starring: Naomi Watts, Jeanne Bates, Dan Birnbaum, Laura Elena Harring, Sean Everett, Scot Wulf, Robert Forster, Brent Briscoe, Maya Bond, Patrick Fischler, Michael Cooke, Michael Anderson, Dan Hedaya, Angelo Badalamenti,
‘Academy Award Nominee!’ screams the front cover of the DVD, and rightly so. The fact that Lynch lost out the title of Best Director to Ron ‘Splash’ Howard in the 2002 Oscar race is neither here nor there. What do the academy know anyway?
To break down the labyrinthine plot into a reasonably concise statement is not easy, but here goes: Two actresses; one involved in a car crash in Hollywood and left with amnesia; the other just arriving in town with the naive hopes of becomming the next Nicole Kidman, cross paths. Sweet Betty (Watts) decides to try and solve the riddle of who Rita (Harring) really is and why she’s carrying wads of cash in her purse.
Fans of neo-noir will be in their element here. Indeed, there’s a deliberate look about the film that hints at Hollywood style of the fifties. The classic ‘woman lures man into shady dealings’ setup is swiftly turned on its head with both the female leads hiding who they really are. And this is Lynch, so if you want the story to add up to something linear, you might as well try and unwravel that old piece of knotted string in your kitchen cupboard.
As with the recent Donnie Darko, this is a film that positively demands repeat viewings, not only to fully realise the structure of the story, but to notice little in-jokes and references that you missed first time around. Nothing is what it seems, and characters float in and out of the story, sometimes as completely different people – such is the dream logic of the film.
Whilst Betty and Rita are trying to find Rita’s memory, film director Adam Kesher (Theroux) is having a hard time with the studio about casting his new movie and having to deal with his cheating better-half (a laugh-out-loud scene involving pink fluorescent paint is something to treasure forever). The beauty of Mulholland Dr is separating each character’s memories/dreams from reality. (I’ll give you a clue: The Dinner Party scene is the key to the whole story).
Fans of the director have declared this the ultimate Lynch experience, Empire magazine gave it the full monty, but despite its glowing reviews and awards, it has divided audiences on both sides of the pond. Like Vanilla Sky, it’s either something you love or hate, with very little room inbetween. You have to work hard to make sense of it all, and the casual renter may be left with a ‘what the hell just happened?’ scowl on their face. But film-fans may be left with a pleasantly stoned look in their eyes and drool running down their chin (and not just from the steamy lesbian sex scenes).
Sadly Lynch isn’t a fan of DVD extras and hunting around on other versions, the most I found were some Cannes interviews on the Region 2 disc. Here you get a trailer and some brief filmographies. He also doesn’t like chapter stops because it spoils the flow of the film, so you can’t jump to a specific scene. But the film is the main thing here and it looks great (a little too great – at the cinema it was dark and shady, on crystal clear DVD the colours jump out and the overall look of the film is lighter. Indeed, a nude scene has obviously been digitally blurred to save the actress’s embarressment).
The one niggle I had was with the running time, but this is coming from the bloke who’s sat through the 3-hour Two Towers twice so far, so it’s not a major gripe. The lack of extras lets it down too, but you can’t help but feel a director commentary from the man himself would ruin the surreal effect of the film. It would be like watching a magician do tricks and then explain them in detail to the audience. I love commentaries, but sometimes things are better left to work out for yourself.
However, the music is a stand-out and the dialogue clean and crisp despite the director’s tendancy for tread-softly sound design (people who saw Lost Highway know what I mean). He goes to a lot of trouble to create original sounds, from the haunting moans over the end credits, through to Angelo Badalamenti’s score, which veers from bizarre comedy (the afforementioned pink paint scene) to spine-chilling horror with ease. Badalamenti is surely one of the most original and under-rated film composers around, and MD shows some of his best work to date.
To conclude: The acting is exceptional (Watts is a force of nature in both ‘roles’) and Lynch fans will be in heaven, but even if the casual observer were to come upon the film and be left stone cold, there’s no denying it would stick in their heads, and in the age of mindless blockbusters, that’s definitely something to applaud.