To love something also means finding a way to appreciate its faults. This is the concept taken to hilarious ends in the 1991 satirical romantic comedy L.A. Story. Steve Martin had just come off a jam-packed decade of memorable turns in the 80s from his film noir cult favorite Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid to his massive audience hit Three Amigos and even a holiday classic with Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Martin was looking to create a story that would serve as both a love letter to his wife and the city that had impacted his life so much. The film was both a critical and box office success upon its release as it struck a chord with both those who lived in the City of Angels and beyond. It is easy to see why, as it captures the frankly bizarre, satirically dry sensibilities that Martin realizes so well while providing an underlying sweetness to assure the audience all jokes are made with love. It’s a tricky balancing act that has allowed this film to mostly remain as potent as ever thirty years later.
Martin plays Harris K. Telemacher, a television weatherman in Los Angeles who has adopted a persona of being dumb and wacky despite having a PhD in arts and humanities. After years of living in Los Angeles, he has succumbed to the vapid ethos that permeates the city. From the opening moments of the film, director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard) brilliantly brings to life the satirical take on the city as you follow Harris through the most elaborate and dangerous maze to work meant to underscore the notion that traffic is truly hell. Harris is withering in his relationship with social-climbing girlfriend Trudi (Marilu Henner, Taxi), who does not take in anything Harris says when he drones on about how superficial the city can be. Whenever the pair dine with their large group of friends, they are all variations of the same shallow person (with the bonus of being filled with notable performers) doing their best approximation of a L.A. black hole. Everything is pretty bleak until the arrival of Sara (Victoria Tennant, The Handmaid’s Tale), a visiting British journalist who actually has original thoughts in her head.
The road to this hopeful romantic pairing is not straightforward. Sara is the ex-wife of a member of the friend group, Roland (Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), who desperately wants her to give the relationship another shot. Harris still has Trudi, but even when she is not around he also crosses paths with the young, beautiful clothing sales women SanDeE* (Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City), wonderfully carefree as the spelling of her name would suggest. Who is Harris to turn to to figure out how to sort his life out and find happiness? A freeway warning sign on the side of the road that “speaks” to him through messages specifically for him. Such a wondrous occurrence may seem a bit out of left field, but the tone established from the very beginning is so heightened that you cannot help but lose yourself in the magic of the situation. This is a man who roller skates through museums just to break up the monotony of life, we can accept that he is seeking guidance from the odd higher power.
Martin threads a delicate needle between trying to comment on the ridiculous nature of the city and delivering a love story that resonates. In what should not be a total surprise for a comedy genius, he pulls it off! Someone with his clout is able to bring many notable names into the fold for quick appearances that are so much fun. Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: Picard) plays a stuffy Maitre d’ brilliantly when Harris attempts to score a table at one of the hottest restaurants in town – this goes far beyond simply being booked solid. You also love to see Rick Moranis (Spaceballs) waxing poetic from a freshly dug grave. These distinct bursts of energy add to the light insanity of the film. It is the endearing weightlessness of Sara that adds the heart to the film. This is a character who could have been stuck simply as the object of desire for Harris, but having her be a bit daffy with recurring comedic bits such as driving on the wrong side of the road gives her a distinct presence. The fact that Tennant and Martin were married in real life at the time makes a lot of sense as the chemistry between the two is quite lovely. This remains a really special entry in the long filmography of Steve Martin. It is not always the first one mentioned, but delivers all the same.
L.A. Story makes its Blu-Ray debut with a 1080p transfer that is quite striking and represents a big step up in quality from the dated DVD. While I have no specific details about the transfer, this could possibly be from a new master as it shows no major signs of age-related wear and tear. For the majority of the film, the transfer looks incredibly clear and detailed with only a couple of shots exhibiting a bit of excessive softness. The transfer is naturally filmic with some impressive detail in the production design and texture of clothing. Colors stand out in a really pleasing manner with bright, vivid hues leaping off the screen in almost every scene. Black levels are pleasing in their depth with not much in the way of crush present. There are no specks of print damage present in the transfer. Overall, I was quite impressed by how strong the presentation was from beginning to end.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings us this new Blu-Ray with both a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 and 5.1 Master Audio mix that does everything it needs to do really well. From the opening moments, the sounds of the city along with the soundtrack brings nuanced life to the rear speakers. The movie features a lovely score as well as many thematically important songs which sound great within the mix. The dialogue holds up quite nicely, coming though clearly without being stepped on by the music or sound effects. The environmental effects are delineated nicely and given a dynamic placement throughout the speakers. The film features a few stray sequences that allow the low end to show off, but it is not a standout in that regard. This is a track that was way more dynamic than you might expect. Fans of the film should be perfectly pleased.
- O2BNLA – Mick Jackson’s L.A. Stories: A new 24-minute interview with director Mick Jackson in which he discusses his journey to directing this film including his initial reluctance, this story as a love letter for Steve Martin to his wife, the English sensibility he wanted to bring to this story, the various cameo performances, storylines that he reluctantly had to cut with John Lithgow, the legacy of this film and more. This is a truly excellent addition to this release.
- The Story Of L.A. Story: An archival 13-minute featurette in which the cast and creative team discuss the development and production of the film, the performance of Steve Martin, the film’s premiere and more.
- The L.A. Of L.A. Story: A 16-minute piece in which Production Designer Lawrence Miller takes you through the various locations utilized in the film while offering some interesting tidbits about each place.
- Deleted Scenes And Outtakes: 18 scenes totaling 21 minutes of unused material are provided here in different levels of quality. There are some fun moments in here including more fun cameos from Scott Bakula, John Lithgow and more.
- 1991 EPK: A six-minute vintage promotional piece in which the cast and creatives discuss the film in broad terms.
- Trailers: The disc provides the Teaser Trailer (1:48) and Theatrical Trailer (1:18).
- TV Spots: Six TV spots totaling four minutes are provided here.
L.A. Story is an incredibly charming story from Steve Martin which manages to be both personal and incredibly funny. There is a magical quality to the narrative that allows the more absurd humor to land squarely in the bullseye. Martin puts forth a great performance, but the entire ensemble shines just as bright in roles big and small. Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released a Blu-Ray featuring a really strong A/V presentation and a nice assortment of special features. Fans of the film should be thrilled to finally be able to own this one in HD. Recommended
L.A. Story is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Lionsgate Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.