Throughout most of this unpersuasive movie, the sheer embarrassment exhibited by Sam (Christian Bale), a dullard psychiatry resident, over the behavior of Jane, his libertine record-producer mother (Frances McDormand), feels so unprovoked that it paints the movie into a dramaturgical corner: Either Sam's an unsympathetic clod, or Jane will have to perform, before our eyes, an act so monstrous that we'll at last understand the source of his mortification. Waiting for Jane to crack should, you might think, create some dramatic tension, but it doesn't. Sam has come west with his fiancée, Alex (Kate Beckinsale), for an extended stay in Los Angeles, where, contrary to plans, they wind up staying with Jane--and the hottie band whose record she's producing--in her shabbily gorgeous Laurel Canyon home. Conventional Alex, a knockout nerd, is increasingly seduced by the spectacle in Jane's recording studio and swimming pool, while Sam tries to resist his increasing attraction to fellow psychiatrist Sara (Natasha McElhone). The movie's frequent comparisons between real (liberated) and manufactured (repressed) emotions would have resonated much better if the actors in it had been given honest characters to play.