David Lynch's 'Mulholland' takes us for a drive of twists and turns

I walked into "Mulholland Drive" knowing exactly three things about it: 1) It was written and directed by David Lynch; 2) it was originally conceived as a television pilot; and 3) it was, according to the press kit's one-line synopsis, "a love story in the city of dreams."

This is all you should know, too, so put this review down until you've seen the film. The less you know going in, the more easily you can surrender yourself to Lynch's beguiling twists and turns.

Still with me? OK, you've been warned, and no whining if I find it impossible to review the film without giving something away. But all this preamble has a reward: "Mulholland Drive" is a terrific movie, a wonderfully Lynchian dive into the dream and the reality of Hollywood, moviemaking, acting and love — not necessarily in that order.

Betty (Naomi Watts), a blond ingenue so starry-eyed that even her sweater sparkles, arrives in Los Angeles to audition for a film and encounters Rita (Laura Elena Harring), a mysterious amnesiac trying to recover her memory after a traumatic car accident. Meanwhile, director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux, in Clark Kent glasses) struggles with studio interference as he tries to cast his new film; a landlady (Ann Miller) complains about dog excrement in the courtyard — and just who is that weird guy behind the diner?

All these identities are eventually transformed, like the bits of glass in a kaleidoscope, as the film plays with time and logic in its final act. Suffice to say that after two viewings I still don't think I could describe the last half-hour of "Mulholland Drive" coherently, nor would I wish to.

But not all dreams make sense, and this is a colorful fever dream of a film, filled with Tinseltown iconography: the "Sunset Boulevard" street scene; the Hollywood letters in the hills; the snappy good-girl presence of Miller, a star from Hollywood's faded Golden Age. (Miller's character — at least, when we first meet her — seems a foreshadowing of Betty, 50 years hence.)

Lynch fans will enjoy chewing on the light girl/dark girl juxtaposition (Harring at times recalls the bruised, mournful beauty of Isabella Rossellini in "Blue Velvet" with the radiant Watts every bit as chirpy as Laura Dern), but even this, of course, gets a twist. And the movie constantly tweaks the idea of acting and reality: One scene feels real, then we realize it's a reading of a script.

Betty's audition scene is a small gem, as the wholesome girl from Deep River, Ontario, undergoes a breathtaking transformation. "Don't play it for real until it gets real," cautions the director at the audition — providing an intriguing looking-glass through which to view the film as a whole.

"Mulholland Drive" occasionally frustrates, like trying to put together a puzzle and ultimately realizing that the pieces that don't fit are from another puzzle entirely. But it's easily one of the year's most imaginative and engaging movies. "Silenzio," says one character at the end — oh, please, Mr. Lynch, not just yet.

Moira Macdonald can be reached at 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

"Mulholland Drive"


With Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Ann Miller. Written and directed by David Lynch. 146 minutes. Rated R for violence, language and some strong sexuality. Guild 45th, Meridian 16.