A combination of intriguing mystery, off the wall Hollywood satire and trademark Lynch ultra-weirdness, “Mulholland Drive” proves one of the more refreshingly engaging and creative films of the year and certainly Lynch’s most accessible and enjoyable effort since “Twin Peaks” – up to a point.
There’s no doubt that at least for the first 2 hours of its runtime David Lynch has served up an excellent female buddy picture of sorts (there’s a few ‘Nancy Drew’ moments in this) with even the rather odd subplots or scenes which seem out of place eventually tying back to these two women. Despite a somewhat confusing start, the picture quickly builds an ever increasing number of memorable moments.
The clues in regards to Rita’s origin are delivered at all the right times and often generate more questions than answers whilst the humour is surprisingly frequent and refreshing whether it be inane accidents like an assassin’s stray bullet, to satire of the Hollywood system, and even out and out slapstick involving Billy Ray Cyrus.
The acting performances are superb all round, Naomi Watts coming out on top as a naive ingenue who has some surprisingly innocent takes on Hollywood. While at first that bubbliness could be mistaken for bad acting, Watts quickly dispels that as the film progresses and scenes such as her auditioning for a role show just how powerful and totally convincing an actress she can be.
Harring plays a mysterious almost femme fatale character with both warmth, a sense of dark mystery, and a simmering sexiness which shines in her quite steamy lesbian love scenes – its a quality the big female stars had in the 50’s and 60’s but is so rare to find these days. Justin Theroux plays pitch perfectly the lead male character, a smart ass young director who never appears out of shades or badly gelled hair, and follows his own subplot for the most part. Here’s where most of the comedy and confusion in the first 3/4 of the film comes from due to a slightly underdeveloped mobster backstory which ties in with a strange but very Lynchian mastermind named ‘The Cowboy’ and the dwarf from “Twin Peaks”.
As this is a Lynch pic there’s moments of unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable guilty pleasures in this, all combined with one of the most picturesque and atmospheric captures of modern day Los Angeles seen on film. Lynch’s LA is filled with intriguing gothic architecture and locals with dark secrets & desires, the magical and maniacal elements of the industry, and the sense of stark sun-drenched desolation and corruption so unique to the city – though I never recall it looking this smog free in my life.
If the backdrop weren’t enough, there’s other unique elements – an almost alien looking homeless man, an old clairvoyant of sorts, an old time movie star turned land lady, a mysterious blue box, the cattiness of people that is omni-present in the entertainment industry, etc. Another thing leaving an impression is the classic songs used in the most unexpected of ways – from “I Told Every Little Star” done during an audition for a 50’s movie, to a nightclub where a powerfully voiced female singer (in reality Rebekha Del Rio) belts out a stunning unaccompanied Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s classic “Crying”.
At the two hour mark however the film suddenly changes track altogether, becoming a completely different and much darker film more in the vein of “Fire Walk With Me” and “Lost Highway”. The change is so sudden and unexpected it pulls you out of the movie, and from then on its downhill – sure some elements of what happened are explained but others are just 180 degree contradictions from what took place before. Characters who beforehand were likeable and endearing become absolute pricks of the first calibre, an old couple who can shrink their size proves annoying and while the eventual climax is truly tragic – its so weird that your scratching your head rather than grieving.
Even the recent “Planet of the Apes” ending had a sense of logic for which there’s possibilities, “Memento” was complex but explainable – here basically no attempt could explain what happened which is probably what Lynch intends (Salon.Com came up with basically the first 2/3 being “all a dream” theory but I doubt Lynch would do anything that cliche). It feels like a confusing jumble was created to hide the fact he couldn’t come up with a satisfying ending in the runtime. Nevertheless the actors, esp. Watts, remain at the top of their game during these difficult to understand sequences.
Up until the two hour point this remains one of the best pieces of filmmaking of the year. When Lynch follows a narrative structure (like “Twin Peaks”) he comes up with some true gems, and while the last 30 minutes will forever remain a jumbled mess, it still has its strengths and own quirky appeal. As a series this would’ve made compelling and unforgettable television, as a movie its Lynch’s best and most enjoyable effort in years.