L.A. Story (1991), written by Steve Martin and directed by Mick Jackson, is an interesting mix of absurdity, fantasy, and love. So it’s basically Shakespeare.
I’ve never been to Los Angeles, but the way it’s depicted in L.A. Story seems to fit most of the stereotypes that are out there: shallow, health-conscious (but afraid to walk to the neighbor’s house), and…did I mention shallow? Yet, the movie isn’t necessarily overly critical of the city; it’s more of a love song to it. The city’s flaws are apparently part of its charm. However, the strength of L.A. Story lies not in its nod to L.A. itself, but in the relationship between Harris K. Telemacher (Steve Martin) and Sara McDowel (Victoria Tennant). They are the story.
Telemacher is a local weatherman, and McDowel is a London-based writer who is in town writing a piece on the city. Each is involved in other relationships, but it’s clear from the moment they meet that they are destined for each other. Of course, Martin also wrote it that way, so y’know.
“…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
We see and hear a bunch of absurd things throughout the film that are amusing in their own right, but they are filler; a distraction. A guy juggles a chainsaw and we hear his screams off camera; Telemacher driving his car through yards and down steps just to get to work; tables at a restaurant move around like a carnival ride during an earthquake, while the patrons simply finish their brunch. There’s even a “talking” sign post that plays a prominent role in the film. All of it is meaningless. It’s the sound and fury of everyday life.
We’ve all (hopefully) experienced it: an electric feeling when meeting someone for the first time, or the first time we touch; the first time we kiss. And who hasn’t kissed someone because a signpost said so, amirite?
Being in love is sometimes absurd and irrational, yet it is the truest thing we have. It makes us feel the best part of ourselves, and those of us of a certain age may feel a bit younger. It’s invigorating; the true fountain of youth. As Harris and Sara walk together, a haunting overlay of music emphasizes the wonder that love’s beginning stages can engender.
“…a fellow of infinite jest…”
While walking through a graveyard on a date, as you do, Sara and Harris come upon a funny gravedigger holding the skull of a magician from Harris’ youth, the Great Blunderman. While reminiscing about the joy Blunderman brought, Sara recites the soliloquy from Hamlet.
Through a series of unfortunate events (i.e. Harris is banging SanDeE*, played by Sarah Jessica Parker), Sara informs Harris that she will probably leave Los Angeles and go back to London. Harris’ response:
All I know is, on the day your plane was to leave, if I had the power, I would turn the winds around; I would roll in the fog, I would bring in storms, I would change the polarity of the earth so compasses couldn’t work, so your plane couldn’t take off.
And on the day that Sara departs, we see
Prospero Harris call in the tempest.
The winds turn, fog and storms roll in, compasses fail, the barometric pressure drops, and we once again the music is pointed right at our hearts.
Harris and Sara are reunited with Harris’ voice over saying, “A kiss may not be the truth, but it is what we wish were true.”
In the grand scheme of things, L.A. Story isn’t a great movie, but amid all of the “sound and fury”, the love story is what gets me, personally. The meaning of the film has changed over the years: from being just a funny little film that I found endearing, to personal events making the relationship between Harris and Sara strike a deeper chord. It’s now a movie that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Like the kiss described, the movie may not be truth, but it is what I wish were true.