David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake has a great title, but that’s about it. This indulgent and bloated noirish sage set in the L.A. underground was a bit of an also-ran, with scattered defenders but not much impact, when it premiered at Cannes last year as one of only two American Competition entries in competition (Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman was the other and took Grand Prize), so now in the week Cannes announces its new schedule, it’s ironic that it’s finally getting a domestic release, however limited, starting Friday.
Originally distributor A24 was planning to release it last summer after Cannes, then pushed it to the end of the year. Those plans obviously evaporated, and it hasn’t surfaced in America until now, long after any hoped-for buzz has faded. Because I have admired the director’s more modest previous efforts The Myth of the American Sleepover, and It Follows — the latter turning into a cult horror hit — it disappoints me that I couldn’t connect more with this overlong, clearly more ambitious effort that seems mostly to be David Lynch-lite. You can see the influence of Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive and others on Under the Silver Lake, but making something that is so all over the place is a balancing act that Mitchell just couldn’t figure out. Robert Altman and The Coen brothers appear to be other influences, but most of this is just posing.
Among more recent films it probably is closest in tone to Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson’s acquired taste that some hated, but I find very repeatable and won an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination. The comparison between these two directors starts and ends only with the fact that they both go by three names that could be first or last. That said, I can say I never was bored here since star Andrew Garfield always is watchable, even as intensely over-the-top as his performance is in the lead role of Sam, an early-30ish guy obsessed with the disappearance of a young woman he had just seemingly entered into a relationship with. Trainwrecks aren’t boring either, but it doesn’t mean I would wish one on anyone, just as I can’t honestly wish a viewing of this film on anyone.
Garfield’s Sam (as in Spade?) is a movie and pop culture freak, his L.A. digs adorned with posters like Rear Window. There are lots of movie connections everywhere in this thing. Like that 1954 Hitchcock film, he peera through his window to ogle neighbors, and one day spots one, Sarah (Riley Keough), who intrigues him. This leads to a casual relationship (they even watch 1953’s How to Marry a Millionaire together in drug-induced splendor) until she mysteriously vanishes. He becomes obsessed in finding out what happened and begins his own sleuthing through the L.A. underground of sex, drugs and the rock ‘n’ roll of Jesus and the Brides of Dracula (!). It’s a world in which anything and any conspiracy theory goes, and there is even a “dog killer” on the loose too.
Although it’s fun to see the L.A. lens filtered this way, Mitchell’s plotting and plodding script goes nowhere. The cast includes such names as Topher Grace and Grace Van Patten, among others, but only Garfield and to a lesser degree, Keough (Elvis Presley’s granddaughter) get to make much of an impression. Like everything else, it all seems derivative right down to the Disasterpeace score that channels Bernard Herrmann among others. Chris Bender, Adele Romanski, Michael De Luca, and Jake Weiner are producers. Check out my video review above with scenes from the film.
Do you plan to see Under the Silver Lake? Let us know what you think.
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