No single image in Mulholland Drive is as scary as the void of Huppert's howling mouth, but David Lynch's new film is shot through with shivers as nervous-making as they are pleasing. (Lynch shared the Best Director award with Joel Coen, who won for the jejune noir pastiche, The Man Who Wasn't There.) Originally slated for broadcast on television, where it was rejected, this site-specific cautionary tale about Los Angeles feels very much like the media hybrid it is. Newcomer Naomi Watts plays Betty Elms, a would-be movie actress with stars in her eyes and cliches on her lips. Stepping out of the airport into the Los Angeles sun, she all but bursts into song (she tugs forth a string of platitudes instead) with an unfeigned enthusiasm that marks her as yet another of Lynch's naifs whose comeuppance seems assured. She is and she isn't, which is key to the film's various surprises and its unexpected emotional warmth.
In a number of respects, Mulholland revisits much of the same territory as a number of Lynch's previous films, including Lost Highway - doppelgangers. come and go, identities shift, as do time and space, hot girls and hair color. It would be easy to suggest that Lynch is merely hauling out his hoary preoccupations, chrome-plating the old fetishes after the cast-iron hokum of The Straight Story - and in many ways, that's exactly what he's doing. But in this case, who cares? However familiar and occasionally adolescent, Lynch's fixations are fundamentally no different than any other director's, save that every so often they're more interesting. There are a few caveats: although well shot by Peter Deming, whose camera prowls with panther stealth, the film has the slightly grubby look of television (as well as some narrative slack); the colors don't pop and the blacks seem more faded than velvety. Still, this is the most fully realized - and most human - Lynch feature in years, a first-rate horror movie about one girl's once-upon-a-time in Hollywood and her unhappily ever after.
Manohla Dargis is the Film Editor at LA Weekly.
© 2001 by The Film Society of Lincoln Center
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