Laurel Canyon (film)

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Laurel Canyon
Laurel canyon poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Produced by Jeff Levy-Hinte
Susan A. Stover
Written by Lisa Cholodenko
Starring Frances McDormand
Christian Bale
Kate Beckinsale
Natascha McElhone
Alessandro Nivola
Music by Craig Wedren. Additional music : C'est si bon, music by Henri Betti (1947)
Cinematography Wally Pfister
Edited by Amy E. Duddleston
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
  • May 18, 2002 (2002-05-18) (Cannes)
  • March 7, 2003 (2003-03-07)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4,412,203

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.


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, is finishing her M.D.-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 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 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 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 the elbow as she tries to split 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.



Lisa Cholodenko stated that the film was inspired by the Joni Mitchell album Ladies of the Canyon.[1]

I think the first germ of the story came when I was finishing up High Art. I was in the editing room in New York with my editor Amy Duddleston. We’d been cutting for a long time and to keep our energy up we took a lot of breaks and listened to a lot of music. One morning, Amy brought in the Joni Mitchell record Ladies of the Canyon. I hadn’t heard that record in a long time. We listened to it beginning to end. I was looking at the cover—a painting that Joni Mitchell did of a hillside up in Laurel Canyon where she lived at the time. We started spinning a yarn about people who lived up there: what their lives were like, what Joni Mitchell’s life must have been like. So the character of Jane was born out of that morning in the editing room over four years ago.[2]

The script was workshopped at Sundance Institute's lab.[3]


The music of Laurel Canyon is intrinsically woven into the film. Analogous to the still photographs in Cholodenko's prior film, High Art, it was critically important that the “behind the scenes” music being created by Jane, Ian and the Band was credible to viewers as the work of major label artists.[2]

Ian's backing band in the film is portrayed by The Folk Implosion. Two songs were performed live on screen: "Someday I Will Treat You Good” and “Shade & Honey,” both written by Mark Linkous, the creative force behind the band Sparklehorse.[2] Linkous also appears in the film in an impromptu jam session at the Chateau Marmont, playing an improvised song with producer Daniel Lanois (whose credits include U2 and Bob Dylan) and Beck's bass player Justin Meldal Johnsen. To maximize authenticity, it was decided to use working musicians to play Ian's band on camera. Lou Barlow and his Folk Implosion bandmates portrayed the band: singer/songwriter Barlow (playing Fripp on bass), Russ Pollard (Rowan on drums) and Imaad Wasif (Dean on guitar.)[2]

Nivola sings on all of the on-camera tracks seen in the film, with backing both on-camera and in the studio pre-recordings by Folk Implosion. The songs were recorded over a four-day period at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, produced by Mickey Petralia, a veteran LA record producer. Karyn Rachtman was Music Supervisor.[2]


  1. ^ "Cast & Crew: Lisa Cholodenko, Director/Screenplay". The Kids Are Alright. Focus Features. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Laurel Canyon: A Conversation with Lisa Cholodenko" (ELECTRONIC PRESS KIT). Sony Classics. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Ross, Matthew (February 27, 2003). "The Mystique of The Hollywood Hills; Lisa Cholodenko on "Laurel Canyon"". Indiewire Features. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 

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