Repertory Cinema Wishlist: L.A. Story
Steve Martin, looking for a sign, in "L.A. Story."
Steve Martin and I go back a long way. I remember Steve from his SNL days, playing the banjo with an arrow through his head, a wild and crazy guy who perfected his idiot role in such movies as The Jerk (1979) and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982). Yes, he took side trips from that stereotype in Pennies From Heaven (1981) and All of Me (1984), but the 1991 romantic comedy/satire L.A. Story is the film that first really showed off Martin's true sophistication as a writer and performer.
It has it all: Bitingly funny vignettes and characters from L.A. culture, elegant sight gags, shallow bedroom shenanigans and a talking traffic sign. Could there be anything more L.A.-riffic? The story of Harris K. Telemacher, a broadcast weatherman who spices up his spots with goofy pranks, and his sad, silly and mystical search for Ms. Right in a city that's all about egos and appearances, L.A. Story is a sweet-and-sour comedy that wryly --almost lovingly -- twists the knife ever so gently with every eye-rolling gag.
Three women wind their way through Harris's life -- a two-timing celebrity wannabe Trudi (Marilu Henner), a roller-skating airhead spokesmodel named SanDeE* (Sarah Jessica Parker) and the refined journalist Sara (one-time Martin spouse Victoria Tennant).
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Trudi films Harris's pranks and drags him to power powwows in L.A. bistros, where just ordering coffee is an exercise in self-referential narcissism.
SanDeE* is a mistake from the very start, though an appealing one one for the confused Harris, while Sara, who is attempting to reconcile with her ex, seems perfect but unattainable, in this comedy of post-modern manners.
But maybe not. In a supernatural turn, it takes a traffic sign to set Harris straight. Get ready for your heartstrings to quiver.
Martin takes clues and cues from Woody Allen, but moves everything to free-wheeling, unanalytical Southern California, and the result is breezily comic, in the spirit of sand, sun and high Hollywood. And that kind of describes him in a nutshell -- at the end, you'll feel as if all the nonsense was worth it. Plus, you'll never again look at traffic signs in quite the same way.
Susan Froyd, in another life, toiled for a few years in some of Denver's most beloved and belated repertory cinemas. She has also seen a lot of movies over a lot of years. In this weekly series, she'll recommend forgotten films, classics, cult favorites and other dusty reels of celluloid from the past. You might like it.
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