A voluptuous brunette (Laura Harring) survives a car crash on Mulholland Drive. She stumbles down the hillside and into a vacant department. Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), fresh off the airplane, ready to make it big, is housesitting her aunt’s apartment while she is away shooting a film. She finds the woman asleep in the apartment and misstakes her for a friend of her aunt’s. The woman has amnesia but decides to call herself Rita because she sees a movie poster for “Gilda” in the bathroom. Betty decides to help Rita figure out who she is. After Betty wows them at an audition, she quickly leaves to help Rita in her search. The journey begins.
“Mulholland Drive” began as a pilot for a proposed television series on ABC (the same network that aired “Twin Peaks”). After the network rejected it, Lynch went back and shot an additional 30 minutes to tie up the loose ends. The material created for the television pilot is very good. The problems arise with the material designed to ‘tie up the loose ends’.
Lynch has always created films that depicted a strange, alter universe. His best works, “Blue Velvet” and “Twin Peaks”,combine this strange vision with fully developed characters and an involving story. His worst films, “Lost Highway” among them, let the strangeness overtake everything else. “Mulholland Drive” is neither the best or the worst film he has created.
Technically, the film is superior to most of the other dreck out in the multiplex. Lynch devotes a lot of attention to detail. Set in modern day Hollywood, everything has a sort of smudgy feel to it, but there are also places that have retained the beauty of Old Hollywood and this beauty shines through.
The story follows Betty and Rita as they navigate through the mystery of who Rita actually is. They encounter a number of strange people and the people they encounter also come into contact with even more strange people. For the first 90 minutes or so, all of this is very interesting. But you keep hoping that it will pay off. We meet Coc Lenoix (Ann Miller), the apartment building manager, Vincenzo Castigliane (Dan Hedaya), a ‘connected’ movie producer, Detective Harry McKnight (Robert Forster), Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), a young movie director, the Cowboy (Monty Montgomery) and many more.
Betty and Rita are the main characters and are in just about every scene of the film. Laura Harring is certainly a beautiful actress and has the body of an old-fashioned screen star, a Rita Hayworth for the modern day, but she is not a very good actress. From what I understand, she has had limited film experience and it shows. Both actresses act too much at times, much like a soap actress might. Rita talks with a slight accent and has a slow, extremely mannered way of speech. Naomi Watts plays Betty as a fresh-off-the-truck wannabee, but it appears as if she is actually just that. In one scene, she mouths “I love you”, to another character, eliciting giggles and laughter from some in the audience.
In the first 90 minutes, as we watch the endless parade of supporting characters, it is easy to see that the television series Lynch envisioned would be endlessly fascinating. Unfortunately, the tacked on ending doesn’t bother to follow story threads that were created in the previous 90 minutes. Instead of following any story through, Lynch uses the same infuriating story device he used in “Lost Highway” as a means of tying everything together. I would’ve been happy if just two characters made any sort of sense. Ultimately, nothing makes sense. Many characters have one scene, never to appear again. Adam Kesher’s part of the puzzle seems particularly short. For instance, why does a woman sing “Crying” in Spanish (I think) and then fall to the stage? It just ends up being a mess.
It is also at about the 90 minute mark that Lynch begins using some of the more far-fetched plot devices he has employed in other projects. Alternate realities, magical devices, demons, etc. all get thrown into the mix.
Lynch’s projects are usually multi-layered stories that involve a little deciphering. In listening to Roger Ebert’s review last night, he mentioned that he loved the film because it resembled a series of dreams or nightmares, with characters and events changing with each successive dream. Some scenes that didn’t interest the director were cut short, more emphasis was placed on other scenes. This is very true, but I don’t feel Lynch was completely successful. Something is missing to make the dreams, nightmares, alternate realities, etc. interesting, believable or enjoyable.
I think “Mulholland Drive”, the six or thirteen episode television series, would have been a constant source of discussion among viewers. I think “Mulholland Drive”, the movie needs a tremendous amount of road work to become passable.