The king of weird, David Lynch, is back up to his old tricks with Mulholland Drive, an odd but fascinating tale of amnesia, sex, mobsters, midgets and cowboys. The film, a reconstruction of an abandoned ABC television pilot, is pure Lynch: a surrealistic mind trip that is extremely irresistible for both serious filmgoers and his legions of die-hard fans.
Drive opens with a head-on car crash on the titular street. A mysterious dark-haired woman, whom we come to know only as “Rita” (Laura Elena Harring), emerges from an accident with a purse full of cash and a head full of amnesia. Dazed and confused, she takes refuge in an empty apartment nearby. The following day, Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), a wide-eyed gal from Deep River, Ontario, lands in Los Angeles with dreams of movie super stardom. Staying at her aunt’s apartment, Betty arrives to find not her aunt there, but Rita.
Instead of calling the police, she finds herself intrigued by the mysterious woman’s situation and offers to help her. The two women soon begin a bizarre search for the truth through the macabre, sun-soaked streets of Los Angeles, where Mafioso, a young film director (Justin Theroux), a studio executive with a tiny head, and an enigmatic figure named The Cowboy all float into the picture, then out again, until there is no longer any distinction between what is reality and what is a dream.
Mulholland Drive resembles most Lynch’s Twin Peaks with its combination of mystery, surrealism and black humor. That is, two-thirds of the movie does. The last act, in which things get really weird, resembles his 1997 flick Lost Highway by way of Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Identities are switched, sexual tension is turned up full blast and the twists and turns are thrown at the viewer so fast that a second viewing may not only be advised, but required. For the most part, you’ll be able to figure it all out on your first viewing. But Drive, like Memento, is a film that offers new discoveries every time you see it. Lynch does a great job seducing us into a dreamlike world (beautifully shot by Peter Deming), only to thrust us into a downright nightmare that in the end manages to make sense and be fun.
At the center of Lynch’s strange world is an excellent ensemble cast, headed by a sublime performance by Naomi Watts. The character of Betty goes through a lot of changes during the course of the film. In the hands of a less talented actress, this could have spelled disaster. Not here. Her performance is so accomplished she makes it look easy. Remember that name: Naomi Watts. This is an actress to keep an eye on in the future. Laura Elena Harring has the less showy role but still does a fine job being the femme fatale. Justin Theroux also turns in a nice, low-key performance as Adam, Hollywood’s unluckiest director. If there is one supporting actor who does a scene-stealing, albeit brief, turn, it would be Lynch’s regular music composer Angelo Badalamenti as one of the Mafioso film producers. I guarantee you that after you see his scene, you will never look at espresso the same way again.
Mulholland Drive is not a film for everyone. David Lynch movies never are.Its odd and occasionally extreme sexual and violent nature will turn off those not entirely familiar with the filmmaker’s previous work. However, for those who want a film that takes chances and respects our cinematic intelligence, you would be hard pressed right now to find a better movie out there.