Updated: Mar 3
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Steve Martin stars as “wacky” TV weatherman Harris K. Telemacher and his love interest British writer Sarah McDowel played by Victoria Tennant, who at the time was Martin’s wife.
(Click on an image to scroll through the larger versions)
“L.A. STORY: 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
Blu-ray and Digital copy; 1991; PG-13 for profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “O2BNLA: Mick Jackson’s Story” interview with the director
FROM THE brilliant, kooky mind of Steve Martin, “L.A. Story” was conceived as a type of cinematic and comedic Valentine to both the city he called home, and his then-new wife Victoria Tennant. Now celebrated on its 30th anniversary, the film has aged pretty well with only a few exceptions. The instances where Martin pokes fun at La La Land still ring true, such as the preponderance of New Age-y fads, and the famous restaurant scene in which customers order absurdly fussy cups of coffee.
Martin, who wrote and co-produced the film, stars as Harris K. Telemacher, who works as a “wacky” TV weatherman on a daily L.A. news program. Harris has an annoyingly vain and naggy girlfriend named Trudi (Marilu Henner), but soon meets the absolutely adorable Sara (Tennant), an English reporter in town to write a piece about Los Angeles. Sara’s also dealing with her ex-husband, Roland (Richard E. Grant), who lives in L.A. and wants them to get back together.
The attraction between Harris and Sara is immediate, but they keep their distance because of their complicated love lives. When Harris and Trudi break up after he discovers she’s been cheating on him, he more or less tumbles into another relationship. This time with a much younger, irresistibly bouncy clothing store salesgirl played by Sarah Jessica Parker (SanDeE*).
(1&2) The opening credits for “L.A. Story.” (3) Harris has suffered a number of heart attacks and rides a stationary bike in an L.A. park with dozens of other riders. (4&5) His daily commute bypasses the crazy L.A. traffic by taking back roads, alleys, and across a river canal. (6) He arrives just in time before his weather segment on the KYOY news broadcast.
Enter a freeway sign that begins magically communicating with Harris, asking for a hug, and eventually providing romantic counseling. Naturally, Harris and Sara keep running into each other and, well, you can guess the rest. On the way to happily ever after, there are more set pieces, Martin-esque slapstick, and even a dollop of Shakespeare. Not all of it works, but there’s a whole lot of charm, laughs, stunning visuals, and wonderful performances, with a few surprise cameos. Newcomers to the film, as well as those of us who saw it when it first came out, are sure to come away from “L.A. Story” smiling.
Lionsgate’s 1080p presentation looks quite good – more likely from a 2K master (1.85:1 aspect ratio). Details are clean and clear, colors are nicely saturated, and a fine filmic grain is evident throughout. The DTS-HD audio is also good, with dialogue always intelligible and effects and music perfectly balanced. Subtitles are provided.
The disc includes three archival featurettes: “The Story of L.A. Story”; “The L.A. of L.A. Story”; and a few deleted scenes and outtakes. The recent addition, “O2BINLA: Mick Jackson’s L.A. Stories,” is especially enjoyable and informative. When he was hired to direct “L.A. Story,” Jackson already had a career in British television and films for which he won his share of awards. His first reaction to the American offer was, “It was so good, I turned it down!” He didn’t think he could direct such a clever American comedy. But Steve Martin flew him to L.A. and gave him the kind of tour Harris gives Sara in the film, and Jackson was sold.
He notes the film’s “comedy of manners, slapstick, physical comedy, witty dialogue, and magic realism, with European riffs.” Martin, says Jackson, is an Anglophile, and “My idea was to envelop this L.A. movie in European culture.” Some of the sets “evoke Renoir or Monet,” he says, and he wanted to “shoot L.A. like an enchanted forest,” with shades of Shakespeare. “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with the lighted freeway sign as Puck, and “The Tempest,” when Harris conjures up a storm to bring Sara back to him. Jackson notes, “There’s a lot of love in this movie – no meanness.” Martin took some of the odd social customs of the city and “gave them warmth.”
(1) Since L.A. days are always sunny and 72 degrees, Harris prerecords his weekend weather forecast. (2-4) He and his naggy girlfriend Trudi (Marilu Henner) head toward a luncheon with a group of friends. There he meets Sara and the attraction between the two is immediate.
Jackson has lived in L.A. since he made the film. “I haven’t fallen out of love with it yet,” he says. He discusses the cameos in the film. “So many people wanted to be in the movie” because of Martin: George Plimpton, Woody Harrelson, Rick Moranis, Patrick Stewart, Chevy Chase, Iman, etc. Jackson talks about Sarah Jessica Parker, who went from being a child actress to an adult star in “L.A. Story,” and how, “She was destined to play ‘SanDee.’ He says he only gave her one direction: “Bounce!”
The director bemoaned the fact that he had to cut some scenes with John Lithgow to shorten the film, and that Martin wrote the other actor a long letter explaining and apologizing. The letter meant so much to Lithgow, he still has it.
Jackson touches on the film’s real and contrived locations; the varied music choices – from Enya to Django Reinhardt, to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Band, who played “Amazing Grace” during the film’s finale. “The movie,” Jackson concludes, “is about amazing grace.”
— Peggy Earle
(1&2) Harris begins his “dialogue” with the lighted Freeway traffic sign. The sign asks for a hug and Harris gives one. (3) Rick Moranis plays a Cockney gravedigger, sparking an “Alas, poor Yorick” parody from “Hamlet.” (4) Sarah Jessica Parker as rain-soaked salesgirl SanDeE*, who charms Harris into asking her out. (5) Harris’ boss, played by Woody Harrelson, tells him he’s fired. (6) Harris takes Sarah and her ex-husband Roland Mackey (Richard E. Grant), plus friend Ariel (Susan Forristal) to a local art gallery, where he (hilariously) interprets an abstract painting.
(1) Sara and Roland go to a fancy resort in Santa Barbara and begin eavesdropping on the amorous couple in the adjoining room. (2) That couple happens to be Harris and SanDeE* -- who had likewise been listening to Roland and Sara. Neither couple is aware of their neighbors’ identities. (3) Harris and Roland, both rejected by Sara, commiserate. (4&5) Sara and Harris obey the Freeway sign and after dropping her off he does a hat-catching stunt.