[Screen It]

(2001) (Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring) (R)

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Drama: An aspiring actress helps a woman with amnesia uncover what led to her condition.
Betty Elms (NAOMI WATTS) is a young woman who's traveled from Toronto to Hollywood hoping to make it in the movies. Arriving at her absent aunt's apartment complex - that's run by Coco Lenoix (ANN MILLER) - Betty discovers a stranger who goes by the name of Rita (LAURA ELENA HARRING) since she can't remember her real name after a car accident abruptly interrupted what looked like her assassination.

Adam Kesher (JUSTIN THEROUX) is a film director who's having casting problems with his latest picture. It seems that a mysterious individual, Mr. Roque (MICHAEL J. ANDERSON), and his hot-tempered front man, Vincenzo Castigliane (DAN HEDAYA), want a certain actress cast in the lead part, something about which Adam isn't particularly happy.

As he deals with that and Detective McKnight (ROBERT FORSTER) investigates the aforementioned car accident, Betty sets out to assist Rita in discovering her real identity and uncovering the details of the accident, including the location of her initial destination somewhere on Mulholland Drive.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Filmmakers are very much like painters where they craft an assortment of images together on their big screen canvas. Some are like Norman Rockwell where what you see is what you get, while others are like Picasso where one has to use their imagination to figure out what the artist intended. Others are like the great Impressionists where things look fuzzy and messy when directly in front of them, but then take on meaning and shape the further one gets away from the effort.

Director David Lynch is one such auteur whose body of work spans all three categories, although he has a reputation for delving far more into the bizarre than in films one would consider "normal." Accordingly, for every "The Straight Story," there's a "Lost Highway," "Blue Velvet" and even a TV series like "Twin Peaks" thrown in for good measure.

If there's one thing - out of the many that are available -- that can be said about the filmmaker, it's that his pictures are never mundane or of the cookie cutter variety like so many other directors constantly deliver. Of course, that doesn't mean they're necessarily good or make much or even any sense, but at least they're different and there's something redeeming about that.

All of which leads us to his latest effort, "Mulholland Drive," a film certain to confound mainstream viewers and divide critics and his fans alike over the debate of whether the work is brilliant, a near miss or just a bunch of convoluted hooey. Truth be told, it's a little bit of all of the above.

Originally conceived and shot to be the pilot of another TV series - a la "Twin Peaks" - the effort was canned until Studio Canal reportedly put up some extra bucks to turn the project into a feature film. Consequently, Lynch shot additional footage - most notably the sexual scenes that couldn't exist on network TV - and returned to the editing booth to assemble a new, feature length cut.

The result is a mixed bag. Fans of the filmmaker will no doubt enjoy the standard Lynchisms - the bizarre, otherworldly characters; the foreboding atmosphere, clues that either are or seem like red herrings; and composer Angelo Badalementi's haunting and highly effective score.

For many others, however, the film will feel like a convoluted mess of a vehicle that spins its wheels on every corner while traveling through downtown Weirdville, ultimately getting nowhere. The film often feels like a TV pilot with additional R-rated material thrown in to spice things up, and many of its elements seem like hanging threads that would have been explored in the ensuing episodes, but go nowhere here and feel shortchanged.

The result - intentional or not - is a film where many parts come off as weird and bizarre simply to be just that, rather than as a cohesive and/or complementary part of the film. That, of course, will thrill some of Lynch's fans, but will likely frustrate many mainstream viewers who won't understand the meaning of what happens, whatever that might actually be.

Indeed, this is a film that probably necessitates multiple viewings to see if the various clues are just that or nothing but distractive nonsense, and to attempt to figure out the ending. I've only seen it once and I'm still not quite sure that I've completely and/or successfully figured out what happened. Maybe that's the point.

Whatever the case, the film is intriguing throughout, with Lynch - who also pulls double duty as the screenwriter - offering an interesting if initially somewhat simplistic setup that becomes more complicated as various characters and twists are thrown into the mix.

To mention the late in the game developments would be giving away some of the film's surprises, so I won't go into them other than saying that they'll make some viewers ponder everything that occurred before them. The developments aren't as complex or satisfactory as occurred in "The Sixth Sense" or "Memento," but they'll certainly have many viewers wishing they had a flow chart of the proceedings as their guide.

The central performances - stemming from typically interesting Lynch characters - are all good, with Naomi Watts ("Dangerous Beauty," "Flirting") and Laura Elena Harring ("Little Nicky," "Exit to Eden") standing out in their roles. What initially seems like some stereotypical and almost wooden acting is eventually explained with those ensuing developments. One particular scene - an acting audition of all things - is the moment when Watts' performance suddenly turns on, and it's a testament to the actresses' skills that she's able to pull off the transformation in a convincing manner.

Justin Theroux ("The Broken Hearts Club," "American Psycho") is good as the frustrated filmmaker, as is Ann Miller ("On the Town," "Kiss Me Kate") as an apartment complex manager, while Monty Montgomery (making his debut) and Michael J. Anderson ("Twin Peaks") embody characters that are obviously the kind that only exist in Lynch's universe.

Brilliant at times and quite mesmerizing but ultimately frustrating and lacking the cohesiveness needed to make it great, the film should appease the filmmaker's fans but could very well leave everyone else uttering a collective "Huh?" "Mulholland Drive" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 30, 2001 / Posted October 12, 2001

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