L.A. Story (1991)

2 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’ve never been to Los Angeles, California. I’ve heard many things about it—some positive (lovely location, great beaches, movie stars) from those who vacationed there, and some negative (evil place, smog-filled land, snobby materialistic people, lot of traffic) who only hear rumors about it. But it does seem like there are a lot of things to pick on it for, and that’s exactly what Steve Martin does for his screenplay “L.A. Story.”

“L.A. Story” is a lighthearted romantic fantasy-comedy that stars Martin, who also wrote the script, as a man who lives in L.A. and learns to start small and work his way up to something big and better, if only he keeps an open mind. He first starts on his journey to find that special something when his car suddenly stops on the freeway and he finds himself near a magic giant electrical traffic warning billboard that actually talks to Martin through lettering and tells him that he can improve his life.

When we first meet Martin’s character—a weatherman named Harris K. Telemacher—he seems like he could use a change. He’s stuck doing the goofy weather reports that have little to do with actually stating the weather; he has a snobby girlfriend (Marilu Henner), who walks all over Telemacher and apparently will never open a car door for herself and always has Telemacher open it for her; and he finds himself in the midst of a lifestyle that many successful people follow, which is sitting in the sunshine and ordering cappuccinos (with lemon twists for some). So when he encounters this magical sign that gives him a riddle to solve about his life, he keeps an open mind and decides to see what’s in store for him.

For starters, there’s a ditzy Valley Girl named Sandee (Sarah Jessica Parker) who works at a clothing store and spells her name “SanDeE*.” She’s an incredibly bouncy, carefree, like-totally energetic chick who is a lot of fun to be around and she and Telemacher share an interesting, energetic relationship. But there’s someone else out there for him—an attractive British journalist named Sara (Victoria Tennant), who is in town to do a story on L.A. lifestyles. Telemacher believes she might be the right one for him. But the problem is, she’s already seeing someone.

But hey, when has that ever stopped anybody in a romantic comedy?

With the sweet, romantic stuff aside, there are a lot of big laughs to be had throughout “L.A. Story.” Most of them have to do with the exaggerated lifestyles of people in Los Angeles. Everything is so eccentric, you have to wonder when everything is going to stop. Highlights include—Telemacher driving his car to work on sidewalks and through backyards (as neighbors smile and wave as he passes); a magnet gone awry in Telemacher’s weatherman job; people acting casually during an earthquake, except for Sara who is unnerved by this occurrence; the snobby materialism of Telemacher’s ex-girlfriend; and Telemacher realizing that the first day of spring means it’s “open season” on the expressway, and loading a gun before bullets start flying early. There are plenty of jokes like that, most of them very funny stuff. Even in the romantic elements, there’s something to look to and laugh at—for example, when Telemacher and Sandee wander the streets at night, a robber with a gun politely says, “Hi, I’ll be your robber for the evening,” and Telemacher just gives him his wallet like that!

The only problem I have with “L.A. Story” is that most of this energetic comedy doesn’t quite mesh well with the “fantasy” aspects. It sometimes feels like we’re in two different movies, except of course for those occasions where we’re laughing at the billboard sign’s pieces of advice. The final act is when everything finally pays off, and luckily, when we really feel the mood that the movie is attempting to convey, and the Capra-esque ending is underway, the laughs come back and we’re satisfied.

Steve Martin is good as always—sharing a great gift of mixing comedy with sincerity. But he also displays real chemistry with Victoria Tennant, who is just lovely as Sara (I really shouldn’t be surprised since the two were married during production). The real pleasant surprise of the cast is Sarah Jessica Parker, who is simply hilarious and plays the Valley Girl down to a T.

“L.A. Story” has its inconsistencies, but it has enough material to make us smile and laugh. Martin proves again to be a game comic actor and writer, the romance is rather touching, and the screenplay contains plenty of jokes, most of which very funny. And there’s a lot of Los Angeles to take in from this movie. I hope to vacation there sometime.

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