For me, Frances McDormand is someone I've always seen great talent in, but I've seen her in so few things. Truth be told, given this film's cast, I was surprised that it fit in so well with the Under the Radar category. This one goes back to 2003, and comes from writer/director Lisa Cholodenko. She also directed the 2010 Best Film nominee 'The Kids Are All Right', but the rest of her resume isn't exactly huge. Top that off with the fact that this is a very different role for Frances McDormand, I kinda sorta had to check it out.
The film centers mostly on a couple, Sam (Christian Bale) and Alex (Kate Beckinsale). Sam finds work in Lauren Canyon, LA, and arranges to stay at his mother, Jane's (McDormand) house until they can find a place of their own. Being a record producer, she was supposed to be elsewhere for a while, leaving them an empty house. However, due to a change of plans, Jane ends up staying home, and living her rock and roll lifestyle with absolutely no shame. While Sam ends up perpetually embarrassed by her, and wanting her to tone it down for Alex, Alex actually becomes relatively interested, which takes her away from finishing her dissertation on genomics. Much of the rest of the film explores the potentials, both positive and negative, of being thrown into such a lifestyle. However, I should mention, it doesn't get TOO harsh. For the most part, these aspects end up being mostly sexual as opposed to the common drug addiction scenario.
This is a story that focuses on one particular family's dysfunctional issues, and there's not a whole lot more to it. But I will say that McDormand totally sticks out here as an overall likable character, BUT she's that character you second guess. You pretty much fall in love with her fun and out-there personality, but I can't deny there are moments that leave you wondering if in the end she's gonna end up being a villain of sorts or not. Whether she does, seems to be a question of the viewing audience's morals. So it's definitely something you'll have to see for yourself.
I can't say Bale or Beckinsale particularly stick out here, but that's kinda fair considering neither name was quite a big deal yet. She was just about to be Selene from 'Underworld', and he wasn't gonna be Batman for another few years. But one character that does stick out as a villain you totally love to hate is Jane's young boyfriend, Ian McKnight (Alessandro Nivola), who has very obvious lusty eyes for Alex. You just wanna punch the guy in the nuts being as slimy as he is.
Anyway, this kind of makes me think of the obscure adult family drama that might get it's Oscar nomination, but you're pretty damn sure it won't walk away with the award. I will recommend it to those, however, wishing to see McDormand flexing her acting muscle 'cause she does a damn good job here. Though moments can be a bit weird and awkward, I have to admit that it's a shame this title is so unknown.