By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Under the Silver Lake is a wonderful and whimsical journey through the darker side of L.A. and the Hollywood dream. In the vein of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but with a wicked sense of humour and a lovable young scruff its core.
Directed by David Robert Mitchell (It Follows), Under the Silver Lake sees Sam (Andrew Garfield) embark on a hallucinogenic journey around Eastside L.A. in search of his Monroe obsessed neighbour Sarah (Riley Keough) who mysteriously disappears.
This is a hell of an ambitious project for Mitchell’s second film and a fascinating follow-up to his 2015 breakout indie horror It Follows. Silver Lake takes everything you know and love about the L.A. noir film and reinvents the genre with its horny layabout protagonist.
Andrew Garfield’s career has taken an interesting turn of late. He’s had a taste of Oscar glory with his nomination for Hacksaw Ridge and starred opposite Adam Driver in Martin Scorsese’s criminally underrated Silence. The actor has well and truly shaken off The Amazing Spider-Man superhero stereotype and has dived head-first into the beauty of the craft. He’s thriving.
Nothing shows the actor’s versatility more than Silver Lake where his wide-eyed curiosity, boyish charm and raw emotion are at the core of a film. He’s incredibly lovable.
After being sprayed by a skunk outside his apartment home, a smelly Sam journeys through the darkest and most puzzling corners of Los Angeles searching for the charismatic Sarah. Riley Keough is really in everything these days, and I’m not complaining, the actress is clearly talented. It’s just a shame she didn’t get more screentime here.
Along the way, Sam meets an array of zany characters who are all seemingly connected to the girl’s disappearance, and every one of them is as colourful and fascinating as the last. Probably one of the most memorable is the ‘balloon girl’ (Grace Van Patten) with her playful hair buns and harajuku get-up, and then there’s the comic fan weirdo (Patrick Fischler) with a collection of celebrity face sculptures on his wall, who you’ll more than likely recognize from Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
There’s a lot that feels like Lynch here, but Silver Lake is definitely a more approachable sort of ‘weirdo’ noir. It feels like a love-letter to pop culture and failed millenial dreams. It’s littered with tributes to Hollywood’s golden age and has enough Easter eggs to rival Spielberg’s Ready Player One.
The film paints the City of Angels as the obsessive and incestuous city of fools that it is, but does so in a way that allows room for breath and humour – from the topless parrot woman to the homeless king, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the background here, not to mention the stunning visuals.
Mitchell has really gone all out with production design and costumes here. The parties, the outfits, and of course, the fictional band ‘Jesus and the Brides of Dracula’ make up a big part of this film’s gorgeously stylized, but never overdone, look.
It’s scary at times as well – wow, the owl woman was especially creepy. It’s kind of a mixed bag of genres but the most noteworthy is obviously the detective noir. For its almost two and a half-hour runtime, Silver Lake rarely has a dull moment.
Despite its complicated plot, the film has been superbly crafted to engage, from Mike Gioulakis’ camera to Disasterpiece’s tribute to old Hollywood soundtracks. There’s so much to take in and so many coded messages to decipher, that it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Leave the analysis for after, because trust me, there’s going to be a lot of it.
Catch Under the Silver Lake at Prague’s Be2Can film festival this weekend.