Under the Silver Lake Reviews
Under the Silver Lake is a pretentious, self-indulgent, convoluted, overlong mess. Positioning itself as equal parts neo-noir and genre subversion, it's essentially a cross between David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. (2001) and Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (2009). With the major difference being that it's absolutely, unrelentingly terrible. A mystery noir, it's also at pains to undermine and critique many of the genre's most recognisable tropes. Relocating the detective stories of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett to the chaotic postmodern era of cognitive semiotics where the relationship between signifier and signified is so arbitrary that meaning-making itself has become a protean commodity, it's a self-important piece of garbage. Fundamentally misogynistic, it's at least 45 minutes too long, with an unfocused narrative, poorly thought-out metaphors, and an insipid protagonist.
Set in contemporary LA, Under the Silver Lake follows Sam (Andrew Garfield), a 33-year-old man-child with no job, no ambition, and no direction, as he attempts to track down Sarah (Riley Keough), a women he recently met, and instantly fell in love with. His odyssey will take him to the darkest corners of LA, and will involve, amongst other things, a hipster pirate, secret codes hidden in everyday objects, a glam rock band, a dog murderer, a conspiracy theorist comic book writer (Patrick Fischler), the Hobo Code, a vast network of underground tunnels, an actual literal homeless king (David Yow), a helpful coyote, an unhelpful skunk, an escort agency staffed by former child-stars, a balloon dancer (Grace Van Patten), a walled-off Xanadu-like mansion, a mysterious songwriter (Jeremy Bobb) with a strange claim, a female serial killer who enters men's apartments wearing nothing but an owl mask, and a New Age cult lead by super-wealthy men.
Perhaps the most immediately obvious aspect of Silver Lake is that the score and cinematography are both extremely retro, serving to situate the film firmly in the formal styles of yesterday. Richard Vreeland's score is a solid imitation of Franz Waxman and Bernard Herrmann, whilst Mike Gioulakis's photography, with its overly dramatic camera movements and crash zooms that seem to come out of nowhere, recalls the work of Robert Burks and Sam Leavitt.
Thematically, the film is all over the place. Positing that pop culture has profound hidden meaning (in direct contrast to most cultural-anthropological thinking), the film is so imprecise and scattered that it's impossible to tell if Mitchell actually buys into the notion that schizophrenic conspiracies are all around us or if he's being facetious. And yes, I understand what he's doing - presenting the film from the point of view of a pop culture-saturated Millennial. However, Oliver Stone did a far better job of depicting a similarly media-soaked shortened-attention span over 20 years ago with Natural Born Killers (1994).
The most troubling thing about the film, however, is how it depicts women. Yes, it's partly about the male gaze and how Hollywood has a track record of objectifying women, especially in films of this nature, so a degree of objectification is necessary. But Mitchell does it to the point where critique becomes content - he doesn't need six women (only two of whom are even given names) to throw themselves at Sam to adequately deconstruct the trope. His intentions may be noble, but he's unable to distinguish between replication and repudiation. All the best intentions in the world don't alter the fact that the women in the film are wallpaper. So all the unnecessary topless shots aren't exploitative you see, because irony!!
And as for Sam's quest to find Sarah? Whereas in Mulholland Drive, Lynch creates a beautiful and complex tapestry where everything has precise meaning, no wasted motion, no weirdness simply for weirdness sake. In Silver Lake, on the other hand, Mitchell just lobs anything and everything at the viewer whether it's significant or not, resulting in a narrative so convoluted that any meaning it may have becomes subsumed amongst self-important pretension.
Under the Silver Lake is a tiresome, self-important, overlong, intellectually juvenile mess. If Mitchell actually has anything to say, it's lost within a painfully dull and self-indulgent plot. Allowed to play relatively unsupervised in the sandbox, the results are disastrous; a swollen, self-admiring film that can't follow through on anything, thematically or narratively, a film that is totally and completely in love with itself.