Laurel Canyon is a street that runs through the heart of the Hollywood Hills, joining the middle-class, stolid environs of the San Fernando Valley to the heart of the city of Los Angeles. The canyon is notable for its varied residents through the years and has served, and continues to, as the home to many rock stars, musicians, performers, producers, and the like.
Among its current residents are Jane (Frances McDormand), a legendary record producer, currently producing an album for a British band whose lead singer Ian (Allesandro Nivola) is her much younger lover. Jane and the band are creating the album in her Laurel Canyon house where she has a recording studio.
Jane’s son Sam (Christian Bale) and his fiance Alex (Kate Beckinsale) are both recent graduates of Harvard medical school. Conservative, solid and serious, the couple find it necessary to move to Los Angeles to complete their studies: Sam is completing his Residency at the renowned Hausman Neuropsychiatric Institute, while Alex is intent on completing her dissertation on Drosophilia Genomics. Jane has offered her Laurel Canyon home for them to stay in, promising that it will be vacant. But when Sam and Alex arrive Jane and the Band are still working in Jane’s home recording studio to complete the album. Sam and Alex begrudgingly stay at Jane’s house until they can find an alternative place to live.
Once in the house, however, things begin to slowly unravel. Alex’s attraction to Jane’s and Ian’s freewheeling lifestyle and Sam’s hesitancy about renewing a relationship with his wayward mother as well as his growing attraction to fellow medical resident Sara (Natascha McElhone) slowly fill the house with tension and doubt.