L.A. Story: 15th Anniversary Edition – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Director:

Mick Jackson

Cast:

Steve Martin……….Harris K. Telemacher
Victoria Tennant……….Sara McDowel
Richard E. Grant……….Roland Mackey
Marilu Henner……….Trudi
Sarah Jessica Parker……….SanDeE*

Tri-Star Pictures and Lionsgate Home Entertainment present L.A. Story. Written by Steve Martin. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated PG-13. DVD release date: June 13, 2006.


The Movie

Steve Martin is a wild and crazy guy, no doubt about it. But his career of late has taken a strange turn. Two Cheaper by the Dozen movies? Another Pink Panther? Aside from the subtle genius of Shopgirl or the satirical Bowfinger, Martin has been regulated to doing movies that are geared towards families. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Either he likes taking on simple, “family man” roles where he doesn’t have to exert much energy, or such projects give him more time to write.

Many forget that Steve Martin is an award-winning writer. His big break, theatrically, came in 1979 with The Jerk. The movie’s success allowed him to write other features. Proficient with the use of typewriter, Martin made good use of his Philosophy degree, and drew from his comedian repertoire, as he typed numerous screenplays and novellas. Some were of the slapstick variety (Three Amigos), while others were transcendental romances.

One comedy that tends to get lost in his body of work is L.A. Story.

Let us just say I was deeply unhappy, but I didn’t know it because I was so happy all the time. (Steve Martin as Harris K. Telemacher)

Part of his opening narration, this is an astute observation of the over caffeinated people who inhabit the City of Angeles. What a place. To see people pedal stationary bikes in parks that forbid running. A city where people open up their wallets to armed assailants, as if the robbers were making ATM withdrawals.

As Harris K. Telemacher, the wacky Los Angeles TV weatherman, Martin makes enough money to be labeled affluent; yet he is stuck in a rut. Who can blame him? The type of satisfaction that can be gained by forecasting weather patterns is akin to being a high school guidance counselor. Neither are exciting professions, but at least counselors get summers off.

Predicting the weather in an area that is pleasant 358 days of the year is quite a stretch. Can’t forget about the seven day period where Mother Nature reigns supreme over the modern day Sodom. Or is it Gomorrah?

Considering the balmy climate, Telemacher made the decision to tape his forecasts days in advance. Not only would it save the station some dough, he wouldn’t have to contend with the hustle-and-bustle of commuting to work everyday. Cars moving at a snail’s pace, the smell of exhaust fumes and horns honking.

Too bad he pre-taped the weekend weather report before the rainiest weekend of the year, maybe the decade. Now he’s out of a job. With his professional career as a meteorologist over, he tries to find solace with his personal life, only to find out his longtime girlfriend, Trudi (Marilu Henner), has been cheating on him with his agent, Frank Swan (Kevin Pollack). Dumbfounded, Harris finds humor in the situation: “And I thought they were only supposed to take 10 percent.”

For Harris to get out his rut and be content he must keep an open mind. So, when an opportunity manifests itself in the form of a giant electrical traffic warning signpost, he is a bit skeptical. The idea that a signpost would one day begin to communicate with the wacky weatherman, suggesting how he can improve in his life, is an asinine thought. Leave it to Steve Martin to add such a plot device to his L.A story.

Before long Harris finds himself in a relationship with a young – only by a few decades – bouncy Valley Girl from a clothing store. Her name is SanDeE* (Sarah Jessica Parker), and like many Californians, she modifies the spelling of her name so that it can stand out. SanDeE* has a carefree spirit and is promiscuous, basically all the qualities a white-haired man on the verge of a mid-life crisis could want.

While the sex may be great with SanDeE*, Harris admits that the woman he is really attracted to – a burning-in-his-loins type of attraction – is Sara (Victoria Tennant), a British journalist in town to do a story on L.A. living.

Having worked on the script for a number of years, Steve Martin uses his sharp wit to create a whimsical fantasy about love and life in L.A. Such humor is used in scenes that seem so out-of-place that they somehow work considering the circumstances. Like when the first day of spring arrives and drivers are at shooting other drivers as they race down the freeway.

At a brisk 95 minutes, L.A. Story is not a thin tapestry of observation. Though, it’s amazing how Martin’s sardonic opinions about life in 1991 Southern California still hold true today. There is enough good material and comic invention that it plays on a number of levels. It’s a thinking man’s comedy with romance, drama, and allusions to the “Bard” William Shakespeare. This is Martin at his best; a film that is as fulfilling as it is weirdly humorous.


The DVD

THE VIDEO
(Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen)

The visual presentation for the 15-year-old L.A. Story is pretty sharp. Its major defects are noticeable artifact issues on the film. There are also moments of grain here and there. Los Angeles, the land of a thousand palm trees, has a copasetic feeling with an emphasis on the color white, whether it is splashed on walls or the slacks Harris tries on when he meets SanDeE the very first time.

THE AUDIO
(English – Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo)

For those expecting to Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The songs by Enya highlight the movie’s soundtrack. “On the Shore” is a sentimental piece and its placement in the film is essential to the romance between Harris and Sara. The two cut loose from a dinner party and kiss in front of a fountain. As they are walking towards the fountain we see them as young children. Enya has just the right pitch at setting the scene. As far as Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack goes, the dialogue is clear and free of distortion. Also included is a Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack and optional English and Spanish subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES

Some may not remember but the original DVD release of L.A. Story was said to have had a commentary track. It even lists it on the packaging. Sadly, it was nowhere to be found. This 15th anniversary edition also fails to include an audio commentary. So, without the benefit of getting to listen to director Mick Jackson or better yet the writer-star Steve Martin for 95 minutes, we have to settle for cursory participation in featurettes.

The Story of L.A. Story (12:34) explores the production of the film with producer Daniel Melnick as the most vocal participant. He shares many stories from the set, like how director Mick Jackson had never been to Los Angeles before being hired to helm L.A. Story. But the neatest sub-section of the featurette is “Is that who I think it is?” in which Melnick talks about the attention Martin’s script got from the Hollywood community. Actors such as Woody Harrelson and Patrick Stewart pop in for a scene and are never seen again.

Production designer Lawrence Miller shows us the L.A. of L.A. Story as we follow him around to 10 different locations used in film, including Long Beach, Burbank, the Hard Rock Café, and the Ambassador Hotel. Each location snippet runs about a minute in length.

The 16 deleted scenes (and two versions of the alternate ending) are probably the best of the extras, if only to see John Lithgow as Harry Zell. Lithgow, whose name appears in the credits on the teaser and theatrical trailers, ultimately had his part axed from the final cut due to the film’s running time. His character is a pompous toad with the worst wig imaginable for a major Hollywood executive. The other scene worth watching is “Moral Fiber”. It has no bearing on the film, but its just nice to hear what Harris says when asked what were his plans for the evening: “Stay in and have quality time with my genitals.”

In fact, there could have been a feature where the viewer can just flash forward to one of Harris K. Telemacher’s many witticisms. Who wouldn’t want to skip directly to quotes such as these?

Ordinarily, I don’t like to be around interesting people because it means I have to be interesting too.

I could never be a woman, ’cause I’d just stay home and play with my breasts all day.

If confusion about your love life is ruining your day, I think it’s good to go over to your best friend’s house and ruin her day too.

Rounding out the disc is a vintage EPK from 1991, the L.A. Story teaser and theatrical trailers, along with six TV spots and advertisements for Swimming with Sharks: 10th Anniversary Edition, A Good Woman, and Moonlighting: Season 3.

THE INSIDE PULSE

L.A. Story is a film I have not seen since its arrival on home video some fifteen years ago. Watching it again I was reminded how great Steve Martin can be when he has a typewriter in front of him. His razor-sharp observations of early-nineties Los Angeles life are amusing, and most likely hold true to this day. Martin’s screenplay notwithstanding, the cast is another plus. His TV weatherman character is a confused individual who only wants a simple and happy life. Marilu Henner, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam McMurray, Patrick Stewart and others make quite the impression with their scene-stealing off-kilter moments. Moments like Harris Telemacher trying to make a reservation at the trendy new restaurant L’Idiot. (Yes, “The Idiot”.) Definitely a surreal comedic experience, the DVD package is to be desired. The strength of the film alone warrants a high recommendation. Depending on your Steve Martin preference – droll comic genius versus stereotypical family guy – you will either enjoy the humor or you won’t.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for L.A. Story: 15th Anniversary
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

8.5
THE VIDEO

6
THE AUDIO

6
THE EXTRAS

6
REPLAY VALUE

9
OVERALL
9
(NOT AN AVERAGE)