L.A. Story review by Mike Long

Steve Martin must considered one of America's most successful and recognizable comedic movie stars, as the actor/comedians has appeared in many movies since his debut in the late 70s. During that time, there have been many, many "movies starring Steve Martin". These are films such as Parenthood, Father of the Bride, and Cheaper by the Dozen, where Martin appears as an actor/star of the movie. Then, you have "Steve Martin films". These are movies like The Jerk, Roxanne, Bowfinger, and Shopgirl -- Movies which Martin had a hand in making. These films have a flavor all their own and certainly differ from Martin's more commercial work. One of his most personal films, L.A. Story has just been re-released on DVD.

Martin stars in L.A. Story as Harris K. Telemacher. Harris is somewhat of a dreamer who sees Los Angeles as his home, but doesn't feel that he fits in with all of the hustle-and-bustle of the city. Harris works as a TV weatherman, but he's so blasé about his job that he tapes his forecasts days in advance. He is dating Trudi (Marilu Henner), but she’s very superficial and it’s clear that they don’t connect. Harris’ one true joy in life is doing his “performance art” which consists of his friend Ariel (Susan Forristal) videotaping him as he roller-skates through museums.

But, this all changes when Harris meets Sara (Victoria Tennant), a British journalist who is in town doing a story on L.A. Harris is immediately captivated by her, but he’s disappointed to learn that she is also in L.A. to see someone. (That someone being her ex-husband, Roland (Richard E. Grant).) Feeling that he has no chance with Sara, and wary of his relationship with Trudi, Harris agrees to go out with SanDeE* (Sarah Jessica Parker), a vibrant woman who is far too young for Harris. Harris then meets a magical freeway sign which gives him advice about love. As several monumental events happen back-to-back, Harris realizes that the best way to live life is to simply follow your heart.

When one examines Martin’s personal films, it’s clear that they often veer off to one extreme or another. Shopgirl was far too dour, while something like The Man with Two Brains may be too silly for most people. Of this oeuvre, L.A. Story (along with Roxanne) may be Martin’s most approachable film, as it offers a mixture of silly Steve Martin, dramatic Steve Martin, and a fairy-tale dreaminess that is presumably meant to mirror some of the unrealistic things which happen in L.A.

This combination of approaches allows Martin to shine in the film, both as star and writer. The movie contains some truly classic comedic moments, such as Martin roller-skating through the art galleries, programming his voice-activated phone, performing his “wacky” weather forecast, or the piece-de-resistance, analyzing a painting. There are also those funny moments when Martin becomes the straight man and delivers his great double-take. Martin also proves that he’s great at portraying forlorn or lovelorn, as the quiet moments of the film show Harris’ loneliness. (Martin would then overuse this tactic in Shopgirl). And then there’s the flat-out weird aspects of the film. The freeway sign which guides Harris is a nice metaphor, but it’s also an odd idea. There are also some scenes (which are set to annoying Enya music) where the film strays from reality and becomes more of a fantasy.

But, it’s also this mixed-up approach which hurts the film. To put it mildly, L.A. Story is an uneven film and just when it seems to hit its stride, the film changes directions. The mixture of comedy and drama works and we laugh at the jokes and we feel for Harris, but the dream-like scenes really slow down the movie. And the attempts at several different kinds of humor smacks of desperation at times. We get slapstick, one-liners, subtle references, and a few off-color jokes all mixed together. It’s easy to argue that this approach offers something for everyone, but most of the comedy here will be too quick and subtle for most audiences, leaving them bewildered at why Steve Martin is driving through his neighbor’s backyards.

For all of its up and downs, L.A. Story is still a charming cast, and even if the film doesn’t sound appealing, it’s worth watching simply for the cameos. I’ve seen the movie several times over the years, and while I always enjoy it, I can’t shake the feeling that it could have been so much more. Still, the movie has aged well, and the jokes, especially the scene in which everyone orders a needlessly complicated coffee-based beverage, are still funny. Now, I’m off to tell my phone to “Dial Mom...”

L.A. Story does lunch on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is surprisingly disappointing. The image is somewhat clear, but the image is riddled with defects from the source material, such as grain, scratches, and black spots. The colors also appear to be somewhat washed out in some scenes. The movie also has a somewhat flat look and artifacting can be spotted at times. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, but it isn’t very satisfying either. The dialogue is clear and audible, and there are some noticeable stereo effects, but otherwise the surround and bass effects are far too discrete and they add nothing to the viewing experience.

This “15th Anniversary Edition” DVD of L.A. Story has a few extra features. The most notable extra are the 18 “Deleted Scenes and Outtakes” which run about 20 minutes. Contained here is a long scene with John Lithgow which was featured in the first trailer for the movie, but ultimately cut due to time. There is also a cut subplot involving Harris’ neighbor, played by Scott Bakula. “The Story of L.A. Story“ (13 minutes) features a modern-day interview with producer Daniel Melnick and archive comments from Martin and director Mick Jackson. Melnick discusses the making of the film and its legacy, and offers a vague anecdote about the movie being screened for Princess Diana. Production Designer Lawrence Miller leads us through “The L.A. of L.A. Story“ with an interactive map of the film’s locations. A 5-minute “Electronic Press Kit” from 1991 gives a brief overview of the film. The extras are rounded out by the “Teaser Trailer”, “Theatrical Trailer” and six “TV Spots”.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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