I have only one complaint about the latest of David Lynch's B-movie noir flicks for cinema intellectuals, but it's a big one.
The first 90 minutes of "Mulholland Drive" give no hint where the story might be headed. Instead of sticking with his primary story -- about a pretty, fresh-off-the-bus actress getting mixed up in a dark, esoteric phantasm of a Hollywood mystery -- Lynch drags his feet by running several tangential subplots up the flagpole, then leaving them flapping in the wind.
The argument could be made that these episodes are for atmosphere. One dead-end thread unfolds in the ominous offices of a movie production company, where a cryptic, crippled, mobster midget (good ol' David Lynch!) manipulates the lives of susceptible industry denizens from inside a dark, velvet-flocked room. Another follows a cocky, arrogant young director (Justin Theroux) who is being forced by the midget's men to cast a particular blonde starlet in his next film. He crosses paths with our heroine, but only in a superficial way.
Atmospheric or not, knowing that "Mulholland Drive" was originally envisioned as a TV series makes these scenes read more like Lynch just didn't want to part with characters that would have had relevance if the show been picked up.
Having said that, if you keep your patience, the central story gradually congeals into an elaborate labyrinthine chiller that's well worth your while.
Aussie beauty Naomi Watts stars as Betty Elms, an effervescent dreamer from Ontario who at first seems so absurdly wide-eyed that you'd think she was from 1950s Ohio. So trusting is Betty that when she arrives to housesit at her aunt's L.A. apartment and finds a dazed brunette sleeping in the bed, she just assumes her aunt forgot to tell her she'd have a roommate.
The vacant-eyed, coldly gorgeous femme fatale (Laura Harding) isn't sure why she's awakened there either -- but we know. In the film's opening scene a car crash in the Hollywood hills saved her from a hired killer posing as her limo driver for the night. She stumbled down the hill and hid in the empty apartment the night before as amnesia set in. Now she has a gash on her head, a purse full of bundled $100 bills and no idea how much danger she's in.
Betty thinks this intrigue and peril is all very exciting and romantic -- just like in the movies! But as she and the mystery woman, who decides to call herself Rita for the time being, begin investigating the latter's past, hints emerge indicating Betty may be savvier than she seems.
While Watts' performance comes across overly broad at first, the longer she's on screen the more you start to recognize marvelously subtle nuances percolating just beneath Betty's pert and pearly exterior. Preparing for a movie audition in one scene, the Betty we know completely disappears in the embodiment of the aprehensive character she wants to play. At the audition one scene later, she does it again, but gives an astonishingly different reading in which she uncorks a lusty sexuality you'd have never imagined was inside this ingenuous ingenue.
In a way this duality is foreshadowing. Soon thereafter, Betty and Rita's investigation leads them to a back-alley Vaudevillian freak show where Rita discovers a strange blue box has been slipped into her purse. This begets a surreal and utterly Lynchian twist that literally rewinds time in the movie's last act. Betty vanishes and Watts morphs into an entirely different character -- a strung-out heroine addict whose pre-amnesia relationship with Rita leads to shocking revelations that turn inside out everything we've seen thus far.
I'm not entirely sure where all the pieces fit together, but that's part of what makes David Lynch's better films so maddeningly entertaining -- trying to wrap your head around them! Had he exercised more economy in the editing room (honestly, 30 minutes could have been cut without handicapping the picture) and allowed a little more insight into Betty's psyche, "Mulholland Drive" would have unquestionably ranked among the director's best work.
That doesn't mean this picture isn't a borderline masterpiece -- I think it is. But there are just too many moments of wondering if the story is going anywhere for this to be an all-absorbing, intellect-warping movie experience. As I wrote in my notes during the screening: Dave, I don't mind you being bizarre, but could you do it a little faster?
Run time: 147 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 21st November 2001
Box Office USA: $7.1M
Box Office Worldwide: $20.1M
Distributed by: Universal Focus
Production compaines: Canal+, Les Films Alain Sarde
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Fresh: 125 Rotten: 29
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts as Betty Elms, Laura Harring as Rita, Ann Miller as Catherine Lenoix, Dan Hedaya as Vincenzo Castigliane, Justin Theroux as Adam Kesher, Brent Briscoe as Detective Neal Domgaard, Robert Forster as Detective Harry McKnight, Katharine Towne as Cynthia Jenzen, Lee Grant as Louise Bonner, Scott Coffey as Wilkins, Billy Ray Cyrus as Gene, Chad Everett as Jimmy Katz, Rita Taggart as Linney James, James Karen as Wally Brown, Lori Heuring as Lorraine Kesher, Angelo Badalamenti as Luigi Castigliani, Michael Des Barres as Billy Deznutz, Marcus Graham as Vincent Darby, Missy Crider as Waitress at Winkies (Diane / Betty) (as Melissa Crider), Robert Katims as Ray Hott, Jeanne Bates as Irene, Dan Birnbaum as Irene's Companion at Airport, Randall Wulff as Limo Driver (as Scott Wulff), Maya Bond as Ruth Elms, Patrick Fischler as Dan, Michael Cooke as Herb, Bonnie Aarons as Bum, Michael J. Anderson as Mr. Roque, Joseph Kearney as Roque's Manservant, Enrique Buelna as Back of Head Man, Richard Mead as Hairy-Armed Man, Sean Everett as Cab Driver at LAX (as Sean E. Markland), Daniel Rey as Valet Attendant, David Schroeder as Robert Smith, Tom Morris as Espresso Man, Melissa George as Camilla Rhodes, Mo Gallini as Castigliane Limo Driver (as Matt Gallini), Mark Pellegrino as Joe Messing, Vincent Castellanos as Ed, Diane Nelson as Heavy-Set Woman, Charles Croughwell as Vacuum Man (as Charlie Croughwell), Rena Riffel as Laney, Tad Horino as Taka, Tony Longo as Kenny, Geno Silva as Cookie Park Hotel Manager / Club Silencio M.C., Monty Montgomery as Cowboy (as Lafayette Montgomery), Kate Forster as Martha Johnson, Wayne Grace as Bob Brooker, Michele Hicks as Nicki Pelazza, Lisa K. Ferguson as Julie Chadwick (as Lisa Ferguson), William Ostrander as 2nd Assistant Director, Lisa Lackey as Carol, Brian Beacock as Backup Singer #1, Blake Lindsley as Backup Singer #2, Adrien Curry as Backup Singer #3, Tyrah M. Lindsey as Backup Singer #4, Michael D. Weatherred as Hank (as Michael Weatherred), Michael Fairman as Jason, Johanna Stein as Woman in #12, Richard Green as Bondar, Conte Candoli as Club Silencio Trumpet Player (as Conti Condoli), Cori Glazer as Blue-Haired Lady in balcony seat at Club Silencio, Rebekah Del Rio as Herself, Lyssie Powell as Blond in Bed (Corpse) in #17, Kimberly Clever as Dancer, Joshua Collazo as Dancer, David Frutos as Dancer, Peter Loggins as Dancer, Theresa Salazar as Dancer, Thea Samuels as Dancer, Christian Thompson as Dancer
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