L.A. Story


L.A. Story. Carolco Pictures 1991.

Before Watching the Movie:

While I was disappointed by the selection I found this week, I’m excited to write about this movie. More excited to write than to watch. Supposedly, this is a “great comedy,” the seminal film in Steve Martin’s career. Reading the box though, it looks like the sappiest kind of romantic comedy. I’m expecting boredom, diabetes, and scenic Los Angeles vistas, and to like it better than I expect.

During/after the movie:

Steve Martin is in a bad relationship with his girlfriend of at least three years, living in Los Angeles and doing Wacky Weekend Weather. He meets the woman of his dreams at a lunch event, and later in the same day meets a hot bouncy new age twentysomething, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. When he finally finds his exit from his loveless relationship, he gets tied up with both of the new women. Sounds like a typical romantic comedy. Martin also gets advice on love from a traffic sign, which sounds like a typical wacky 80s laugh riot. What unfolds is actually a tender, believable, complicated love story set in a magical, off-kilter world.

Make no mistake, Steve Martin is at the top of his game in this movie. He delivers jokes and displays complex human emotions seamlessly. In one scene he extensively riffs a deep analysis of a painting, which turns out to be a red rectangle with a purple smear. In another he finds out his girlfriend has been cheating on him and starts dancing as soon as he’s in private. He lives in a world where people rollerscating through art museums is only mildly unusual and cities themselves help people in need.

My main complaint with this film is Martin’s single-minded persistence in trying to win his great love. I know it’s a staple of the romantic comedy, but when the realities of dating trigonometry are laid out so bluntly, it just makes window serenades all the more awkward. Also, the fact that whatever mystic force is helping him takes such extreme measures at times makes the end seem a little hollow.

L.A. Story takes place in a spoof of Los Angeles where nobody asks permission of anybody to indulge themselves, diners go on with their meals through level 4 earthquakes like nothing is happening, and you need a formidable line of credit to even get a reservation at a snooty French restaurant. It contrasts with the messy emotions of the plot in a delicious way I’m not accustomed to seeing on screen.

This film is not a romantic comedy, it’s a romance, a comedy, and a fantasy all sharing the same celluloid. It could have been done without Steve Martin, but it would have been a completely different piece. It could have been done without Sarah Jessica Parker, and it would have been largely the same.

Watch this movie: wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful and yet again, wonderful.

Don’t watch this movie: if you seriously think you can have the duck with a financial statement like this.

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