L.A. Story is a film dedicated to the premise that the city’s reputation as a haven for free-spirited oddballs is actually understated. It also looks under the well-buffed exterior of the so-called “beautiful people” and finds layers of desperation and loneliness below the insecurity we already knew was there. This Los Angeles is a place where a woman’s breasts feel odd if they’re real.
Harris K. Telemacher (Steve Martin, who also wrote) is a local television weatherman in a city without weather, reduced to wacky shtick in place of actually making use of his meteorology degree. For the last two years, he’s been blissfully unaware that his vain, shallow girlfriend (Marilu Henner) has been having an affair with his agent (“I thought he was only supposed to take ten percent.”).
Liberated from that stifling relationship, his love life gets immediately pulled into the orbits of two very different women. First there’s SanDeE* (Sarah Jessica Parker), a bouncy 23-year-old aspiring spokesmodel (“I like to point.”). Second is Sara (Victoria Tennant), a sharp, caustic but vulnerable British journalist who duets on the tuba over the phone with her mother in England, but can’t get the hang of driving on the right side of the road. She’s also being pursued by her obsessive ex-husband (Richard E. Grant).
Martin’s L.A. is peppered with glitzy restaurants that require more than just a reservation to get in the front door (“You think that you can have the duck with a financial statement like this?”). In this city, the robbers introduce themselves politely and a high colonic is considered a good lunch date.
What makes the comedy work in this film is that Martin clearly loves his city even as he lampoons it. Yes, the people here are overly pampered and a little bit off, but clearly Martin wouldn’t have it any other way.
Steve Martin’s work here is some of the best he’s done in his career, a fine balance between his broad comic skills and the more nuanced actor of films like Shop Girl. Watching this movie again just made me cringe all the more thinking about wastes of this man’s talent like The Pink Panther and Cheaper by the Dozen 2. I know Martin does movies like that to pay for more personal work like Novocaine and The Spanish Prisoner, but that doesn’t make them any easier to watch.
But no matter how many lame comedy sequels he makes, we’ll still have L.A. Story, a near-perfect film for people who like to laugh at Los Angeles and Angelenos who can laugh at themselves.