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Mulholland Drive

David Lynch, USA, 2001

Rating: 4.5



Posted:October 31, 2001

By Laurence Station

Critics of David Lynch's work have often accused the maverick director of creating films riddled with an overriding sense of "weirdness for weirdness' sake" logic, gaping plot holes, and, at points, a complete disregard for formal (some would say coherent) narrative structure. And based on several of his more puzzling efforts (Lost Highway, say, or Wild at Heart), such critical observations definitely have merit.

Is Lynch just playing tricks on his audience? Trying to see how much frustrating incoherence he can get away with under the guise of a "gifted auteur" or "eccentric genius"?

The answer seems to be a definite maybe. It is true that throughout his career, Lynch has experimented with everything from avant-garde camera angles to plot threads so Byzantine it becomes difficult for even the most patient viewer to determine what the initial point of the entire exercise was in the first place (See: Twin Peaks and its feature-film sibling Fire Walk With Me. Better yet, don't.).

But rather than suspect Lynch of pulling an elaborate hoax on the movie-going public, it might be more appropriate to view him as a man so inured with piling on the red herrings that he's ultimately hamstrung by his own excessive convolutions.

Which brings us to his latest big screen work, Mulholland Drive, a project originally meant for the small screen, but nixed after network execs got skittish over the end results. True to form, Mulholland Drive plays fast and loose with normal conventions, appearing to validate all of the criticisms hurled at Lynch throughout his incredibly checkered career.  We get a bizarre, encephalitic midget pulling strings behind the scenes; a cowboy speaking in cryptic (yet eerily folksy) riddles; the requisite alluring femme fatale; and a host of seemingly unrelated plot threads deliberately left dangling. It's all here, and it'd be easy to take umbrage with Lynch's insistence on stockpiling bizarre non sequiturs, if it weren't for one overriding factor: Mulholland Drive is Lynch's best work since his much-acclaimed 1986 feature, Blue Velvet.

The setup: Young ingénue Betty (Naomi Watts), arriving in Hollywood hoping to become a star, discovers amnesiac car accident survivor Rita (Laura Elena Harring) showering in the apartment Betty's aunt has lent her while the woman is out of town. Despite the awkwardness of their initial meeting, Betty and Rita quickly team up, hoping to unravel the mystery surrounding the accident, and, more importantly, Rita's true identity.

To give any more away would be an injustice to the impressive contrivances Lynch strings together while moving his characters through the oft-times surreal set piece in this not-quite modern day Los Angeles. Besides, the plot and its ultimate resolution aren't what elevate Mulholland Drive to the top of the short list of Lynch's truly great works.

Instead, it's Lynch's acute observations on the nature of obsession that transcends the basic plot. The defining element is the myriad ways in which people are driven and destroyed by their respective demons, be they love, lust, money, or power, as evidenced by the tricky dynamic of Rita and Betty's increasingly needful relationship, and destructive impulses it ultimately fuels, conjoined with the power that dreams have on the waking aspirations of desperate Hollywood hopefuls.

Naomi Watts deserves special mention for pulling off a difficult roll, deeply committing herself to a complex character that could have been fumbled badly by a lesser actress. But the ultimate kudos must go to Lynch, taking what could have been another exercise in excessive weirdness and giving the audience a heartfelt and devastating examination of life in the City of (Fallen) Angels.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterpiece
 4.0-4.9: Exceptional

 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
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