Worth A Look: 18.84%
Pretty Bad: 6.38%
Total Crap: 9.42%
13 reviews, 251 user ratings
by Erik Childress
David Lynch is like that ultimate prankster, setting you up to believe and care for one situation and just when it reaches a boiling point, tells you you’ve been on Candid Camera. His latest film is like an extended prank, one that started off as a television pilot, then scrapped when ABC pulled the plug. Imagine his Twin Peaks set in Hollywood, a story with intersecting storylines and a group of characters whom which the term eccentricity would be a six feet understatement. Now fling that story off the mountains and onto the Lost Highway where you realize that everything you’ve been watching for an hour and 45 minutes has been nothing but a lie. And while you’re trying to decipher the final 40 minutes, you will wonder if you’re actually watching “The Anne Heche Story.”Lynch’s new lost highway is on one of those dangerous curves on Mulholland Drive where the story begins. A beautiful woman (Laura Elena Harring) being forced out of a limo at gunpoint finds herself saved when a group of drag-racing teens plows into them, throwing her into the bushes with a nice case of amnesia. She finds solace in an empty apartment where wide-eyed small-town girl Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) is coming to stay, seeking her fame and fortune.
"'Twin Peaks' On the 'Lost Highway'"
Meanwhile uptown, a hotshot Hollywood director, Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux, looking a lot like Gil Bellows) is being forced to recast the lead actress in his new film by the menacing Castigliane brothers (Dan Hedaya & Angelo Badalamenti). This is just the beginning of what could be the worst and strangest day of his life, which will include run-ins with his cheating wife, a mysterious presence known as The Cowboy and Billy Ray Cyrus(!) (as a pool guy.)
So while Mr. Director tries to put his life back together, Betty insists on helping “Rita” (Ms. Amnesia who takes her name from a “Gilda” poster) find out who she is, especially when Rita’s purse contains nothing but huge wads of cash and a mysterious odd-shaped metallic blue key. Notice how mysterious everything seems to be? Let’s not forget about the grunge-rock looking hitman (Mark Pellegrino) who comically bungles a routine job (in the film’s funniest scene) and whose next assignment appears to be tracking down Rita. Is it for Mr. Roque, the mysterious dwarf trapped in a paralyzed body?
Oh yeah, and Robert Forster is in this, too. Don’t let that “and” credit fool you during the opening titles. Poor Robert has one early scene as a detective at the car accident, maybe three or four lines and then never seen or heard from again. Surely he was going to be a wonderful supporting character in the television series, but why tease us with his appearance when him and Brent Briscoe could have been cut out altogether? Hedaya & Badalamenti are never seen again either. And how can we forget about the two men in the Dennys-like restaurant talking about insane dreams, after which one of them dies from the mere sight of a bum’s face, black with fungus? Easy, because the movie does.
If you want to be forgiving, you can address how the first 105 minutes of this film, would make a great two-hour pilot for a television series. Maybe the best since Twin Peaks. With so many characters and so many storylines set-up and left unresolved, it’s also easy to commend Lynch for pulling off any sort of resolution whatsoever. But while surprises and shocks in a show or a film should resemble a hard slap in the face, here Lynch just keeps slapping you…HARD…then tops it off with an indian burn and an endless noogie like the bully who just wants you to say “uncle” before stealing your lunch money.
Trust me when I say you will know the exact second that the TV pilot material ends and the new Lynch theatrical stuff begins. You go from a light “PG-13” into a hard “R” before nearly segueing into an “NC-17”, sort of like a Usual Suspects with lesbians. It’s these final 40 minutes where the film’s true story takes shape, or does it?
Directors like Tarantino, Soderbergh and P.T. Anderson play with time. Lynch plays with realities. Alternate realities. Multiple realities. Problem is we’re never sure whose reality is where or when it begins or ends and why. Like Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive becomes a puzzle with pieces that have no ins or outs. You can’t just snap them into place and when you have finally found two that fit together, its still very easy to upend the table and watch what you thought was connected fall apart. Imagine trying to fit a square peg in a round hole that doesn’t exist.
The great debate of film vs. television should be unearthed when discussing this experiment. The footage that makes up the original television pilot (as seen here) would not make up a viable film, unless as the intended beginning of a proposed trilogy. As a single concoction, the TV pilot is open-ended. Nothing is resolved and nothing much happens to form any kind of feeling or metaphorical understanding of what the characters are experiencing. Yet if you were watching it on a Sunday night at home, with the knowledge that you will be seeing these characters and these storylines continued next week, you can develop a greater appreciation for the humor, these people and the languid, dreamlike pacing. A film, whether it be 90 minutes or 3 hours, eventually has to end. Any two episodes of The Sopranos or The West Wing might be brilliant, but put together wouldn’t necessarily establish a beginning, middle and end.
Mulholland Drive has a great deal to appreciate. Individual scenes work extremely well; so well that we wish they would payoff sometime during a 22-episode commitment. There’s the meeting between the film director and the mob brother with an impossible-to-satisfy coffee craving; the young ingenue springing into a real actress in the arms of no-less-than Chad Everett; infidelity and pink paint; and a hypnotically beautiful theater experience that not only turns Roy Orbison into opera, but sets up the tone shift for the rest of the film
Did I mention there were lesbians? You betcha, we got kissing lesbians, naked lesbians, manic-depressive lesbians, bisexual lesbians. We even have a masturbating lesbian who commits the most violently intense moment of self-gratification since Linda Blair held a crucifix. Too over the top? Too much of a style change? How else can one hope to write about a film where one of the less-subtle metaphors is about one woman holding the key to another’s box?
Mulholland Drive could readily be described as the story of a woman lost in the big town of Hollywood with all the best intentions, but succumbs to tragedy. We’ve seen stories like that in the linear sense before and frankly we could do without one more. But the frustration lies in trying to put our souls into a story that may very well have no solution. Lynch has said on many occasions that even he has no clear interpretation of his films. He leaves it up to the individual to form their own. Ironic how actress Laura Harring used to go by the last name of herring.
Lynch once referred to Lost Highway as a kind of Mobieus Strip. It’s a strip of paper shaped into a loop, with a half twist, but no definite start or end. Despite this, by drawing a line starting on the outside of the loop and going around, it will end up covering the entire loop, including both sides of it. Both Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive resemble a kind of mental illness known as “psychogenic fugue”. Whatever suffers from it creates in their mind a new identity, completely forgetting their past identity. A fugue starts off one way, takes up on another direction, and then comes back to the original.
Twin Peaks was a near perfect marriage of television, dark humor and surrealism. OK, so that sounds like a Mormon three-way, but it’s the truth. The restrictions of television, for better or worse, kept Lynch and his ideas within a jar that was always full and rich with originality. Sure, the series jumped the shark the minute Laura Palmer’s killer was solved and I remember personally tuning out when Joan Chen became trapped in a bedside drawer knob, but until then it was near perfect.
Then, the series was canceled and Lynch took to the silver screen to create the prologue “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” which contained all the elements you could never see or hear on network television – graphic violence, tons of profanity and lots o’ nudity. The Lynch was out of the bag and it wasn’t pretty. Sometimes the old adage of “less is more” is very true and with Lynch usually more is even less.This film is like watching Memento through the eyes of Hunter Thompson dipping into a stash of Lynch’s that would kill a normal human being. There’s a great deal to appreciate and a whole lot more to frustrate. Demanding that the film be seen twice by anyone would perhaps be a punishment that would recoil the Torquemada. I will most certainly be going back for a second helping like a bullimic on a Jenny Craig diet. The pieces seem to be all there, even though I’m sure they’re not. I know I’ll just get frustrated again and I’ll probably hate Lynch even more than those who continue to praise his work while still having no clear understanding of the film themselves, but like an eclipse or even a horrendous car crash, you just feel compelled to look.
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originally posted: 09/29/01 12:39:54