2001, R, 146 min. Directed by David Lynch. Starring Naomi Watts, Robert Forster, Dan Hedaya, Ann Miller, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 19, 2001
Robert Forster's character (who makes a cameo early on in David Lynch's newest) neatly sums up the film when he arrives. He plays an LAPD detective investigating a mysterious traffic accident on the titular thoroughfare, and says, in effect, I don't like it, there's something funny going on here, all Jack Webb logic and terse, tough-guy panache. Well, yes, of course, this is a David Lynch film, after all. Filmgoers who only know the eccentric director from his last film, the wonderful but atypical The Straight Story, will likely find their heads exploding somewhere into Mulholland Drive's final reel, although longtime fans of Lynch's bizarro-world theatrics (I count myself among them) will rejoice, and then probably retire to the nearest cafe to wallow in caffeine and dissect the finer points of a film that's as challenging to explain as a dream, though only sporadically as rewarding. The plot is a Rubik's Cube of classic Lynchian archetypes culled from the director's entire oeuvre: There's a pair of Hollywood dames at the heart of the story, Betty (Watts), a new arrival to the L.A. basin, who is intent on making her mark in the film world; and the amnesiac Rita (Harring), who takes her name from a Gilda poster because she can't recall her real one. The pair meet, by chance, and the ingratiatingly perky Betty -- she might as well have just stepped off the bus from Riverdale -- makes it her mission to help Rita figure out who she is, and why it seems that bad people are after her. There's also a young, maverick film director (Theroux) being pressured by shady mafia types to cast a certain actress in his newest film, or else, and it wouldn't be a David Lynch film without at least one dwarf sequestered in an art-deco dream room placing mysterious commands by cell phone to unseen minions, so, hey, welcome back Michael J. Anderson, it's been too long. Lynch, in an inspired effort to add resonance to this Hollywood noir, even casts the great Golden Age starlet Ann Miller as Betty's landlady. Miller is a wonderful touch; most people will recognize her from her interview that runs on an endless loop on the cable outlet American Movie Classics, but in her day she was a prime mover (and shaker -- just check out the Marx Brothers' Room Service for more on that) and her faded tinsel sheen effortlessly evokes all sort of garish Lynchian connections. With a lush, sexy score by longtime Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti and exquisite cinematography by Peter Deming (From Hell, Lost Highway), Mulholland Drive is as gorgeous a piece of work as any of the director's films to date. That said, the one major drawback here is that the film doesn't make much sense -- okay, it doesn't make any sense, especially in the final act, where Lynch dives headfirst into a bizarre sort of dreamtime anti-logic, and drags us along for the ride. But so what? Who ever heard of anyone seeking out a David Lynch film for its simplistic narrative drive? Relax, sit tight, and enjoy the ride.