The most interesting quality of Mulholland Drive (2001) is that I knew it was a mind-bender but was convinced otherwise for two hours until my mind was severely bent. The more I consider the bend itself, the more I appreciate the quality of the movie. Its proportions are perfect. I’m not very big on “notice the red lamp shade” deciphering in movies generally, but for whatever reason, I found it attractive in my first viewing of Mulholland Drive. Probably because the revelation is paced such that I could piece the larger chunks of the plot into the new reality to come up with some meaning. And it makes for interesting meaning. It’s definitely something that one watches more than once. The weirdest mystery of all to me is that Mulholland Drive is not readily available on Blu-Ray (while cheap and easy to find used on DVD).
Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) is in Los Angeles for a visit and a big audition set up by her Aunt Ruth (Maya Bond). While the aunt is out of town filming a movie, Betty is going to stay at her place. Earlier, a dark-haired woman (Laura Harring) was driven out to Mulholland Drive in a limousine when it suddenly stops. The driver turns around and he’s got a gun, but before he can kill her, a pair of racing teenagers pull around the bend and one car collides with the limo. Concussed, the woman leaves the crash and makes her way into Ruth’s place and falls asleep. Later, Betty arrives and runs into the strange woman who, seeing a poster of Rita Hayworth, calls herself Rita. After a little misdirection, Betty and Rita try to piece together what happened to Rita and why. Meanwhile, the director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is forced into a casting decision under very strange circumstances.
If David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive was not as well received as it was, I don’t know how I would have responded to it. The first part of the movie is very mannered. The film is at television quality and the acting feels like it’s in the same region. I happened to know that the movie was initially supposed to be a television show, so I thought that these things were an outgrowth of the budget differences between the media. I made a note “stilted acting on purpose?” Yes, turns out that it was on purpose and for a legitimate purpose. Once the twist happens—and I apologize for the phrasing, but I assure you that you will forget that a twist is coming when you watch the film—the quality of the film and the acting shifts and things come closer to what you might expect of a studio film (if admittedly a weird studio film).
I had very high expectations because people I trust genuflect before the image of Naomi Watts and this film in particular. I was given to expect that my mind would explode and require three or four viewings to reconstitute the wreckage. I think it could be done in two and three for safety, but even one viewing for someone paying attention is enough to scrape things back into a manageable, working brain. Perhaps I should have expected the film issues from the unavailability of a Blu Ray version, but I was pretty disappointed by it. Call me what you like, but I dislike movies that do bad things on purpose. The characters can be stupid, but purposefully bad acting is something entirely different. It’s annoying. At first I thought it was simply a poorly executed attempt to act in the old style with language from the old films noir. It isn’t and I’ll leave it at that.
So, while I liked the movie quite a bit on a structural level, I didn’t find it the thoroughly enjoyable mind-bending experience I was hoping for.