|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 14 August 2001|
Even if it doesn't look as fresh and inventive at this end of the decade of the 1990s as it did at the other end, L.A. STORY is still a genial, well-observed -- if overstated -- romantic comedy about, as the title says, life in Los Angeles. Actually, it's about life in affluent, white Los Angeles, but that's okay; the satire is gentle and broad, and so are the characters. The title may be overambitious, but it's also not false to the segment of Los Angeles life we see.
Steve Martin wrote the script and plays Harris Telemacher, a television weatherman with a particularly wacky style, even though he's a fairly serious guy offscreen. He's getting pretty tired of Susan (Marilu Henner), whom he's been dating for some years; she's brittle, trendy and overly concerned with style. When Harris meets Sara (Victoria Tennant), a British journalist covering life in L.A., they're almost immediately attracted. But there are entanglements: she's still hotly pursued by her ex-husband Roland (Richard E. Grant), a long-time L.A. resident. And Harris is attracted to the much younger SanDeE* (Sarah Jessica Parker), a fun-loving near-airhead. How Harris and Sara manage to straighten things out is the story.
The extra material on the DVD is much better than usual; not only are there some "Easter Eggs"/hidden menu items (not hard to find, but also not particularly rewarding when they're found), but the featurette on the making of the film and, particularly, the production note are better than usual. For example, we learn that it took Martin many years to shape the script, which he intended as an homage to Woody Allen's similar films (a match to MANHATTAN, perhaps), and which became increasingly fantastic through succeeding rewrites. There were also Shakespearian influences, but it's going a bit far for the notes to claim that the movie is based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. The opening shot is, however, inspired by another film, Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA. In that classic, a statue of Christ was carried over Rome by a helicopter; Los Angeles, of course, isn't that grand -- here a chopper carries a giant hot dog.
The overtly fantastic element of the film that works the best, and which is certainly the most memorable, is the friendly freeway traffic warning sign that talks to Harris in blinking lights. "L.A. Wants 2 Help U," the sign says, but its most famous phrase is "How Daddy Is Doing." But people also remember the airy, silly scenes of Martin roller-skating in a museum, and probably Patrick Stewart's turn as the awesomely snotty matire d' of the newest, hottest L.A. restaurant, L'Idiot. And when Martin and Tennant (his real-life wife) walk through a perfect night, they're replaced for a while by children; grasses grow around their feet, and stone lions bow as they pass.
The satire is funny and accurate, but subtle it's not. Martin joins a line of people waiting to use an ATM; on the other side is a line of holdup men who one by one rob each successive customer. A Walk/Don't Walk sign reads "Like Uh Don't Walk." Restaurants can be so expensive it requires a visit to a bank to get financial approval to even make a reservation. On display in a museum are artifacts of famous musicians, including Beethoven's balls. Everyone in L.A. has their favorite shortcuts; Martin's involves sidewalks, parking lots, alleys, back yards, etc.
The useful supplementary material includes not only a list of the film's several guest stars, but where they appear: Rick Moranis is a gravedigger mimicking the one from "Hamlet;" Chevy Chase is a L'Idiot patron; Woody Harrelson (the best cameo) is Martin's boss at the TV station; Imam is, well, just there, and Terry Jones' voice is heard as Tennant's mother back in England, playing "Doo Wah Diddy" on some kind of tinkling instrument while Tennant toots along on her tuba.
L.A. STORY was British Mick Jackson's first American film; he stayed on, but his career has not been distinguished (CLEAN SLATE and THE BODYGUARD are among his others), and L.A. STORY remains his best movie to date. And it's one of the best scripts from Steve Martin so far, too. Martin is a very bright guy and a good comic actor whose films -- at least since he dropped "The Jerk" persona -- tend to be quite good, but also leave one with the feeling that he hasn't yet hit his stride.