L.A. Story (1991)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #268

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Number of Views: Infinite
Release Date: February 8, 1991
Genre: Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $28,862,081
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Mick Jackson
Screenplay: Steve Martin
Producer: Daniel Melnick
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
Score: Peter Melnick
Editing: Richard A. Harris, Greg Le Duc
Studios: Carolco Pictures, IndieProd Company Productions, L.A. Films
Distributors: TriStar Pictures, Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment
Stars: Steve Martin, Victoria Tennant, Richard E. Grant, Marilu Henner, Sarah Jessica Parker, Susan Forristal, Kevin Pollak, Sam McMurray, Patrick Stewart, Andrew Amador, Gail Grate, Eddie De Harp, M.C. Shan, Frances Fisher, Iman, Tommy Hinkley, Larry Miller, Woody Harrelson, Chevy Chase, Rick Moranis, Terry Jones

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Suggested Audio Candy

[1] Manfred Mann “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”

[2] Enya “Exile”

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“Let your mind go and your body will follow”

This one has been a long time coming. I’m not sure what it is about your all-time favorite movie that makes it so darned hard to write about but I have been putting this particular appraisal off since I started out. It’s not that I can’t find plenty to wax about when it comes to a movie such as L.A. Story but more that I want my analysis to be pitch perfect as that is how I regard Steve Martin’s affectionate love letter to the place where his heart lays. Now I have decided to throw caution to the wind and let my soul explain why this glorious peach of a movie had me at hello. I may not get into all the nooks and crannies but nobody will be able to question my passion for L.A. Story. That is all I could ever ask.

L. A. STORY, Steve Martin, Marilu Henner, 1991

“You know, you’re really nobody in L.A. unless you live in a house with a really big door”

I have spent a rather exclusive length of time in Los Angeles over the past six months and considered scribing my ode the first time I returned. However, seven weeks under the searing sun has provided me with all the enlightenment I could ever need as to why Martin holds this place so dear. His film marks a rare directorial outing for him and is, without a doubt, the most personal of all his projects. You can see as much in every last frame as it positively glows with his affection and, moreover, can inflict upon our hearts, a heat wave in the process. It is goofy, irreverent, and endearing in equal measures and this mixture is as potent as any for anybody with a funny bone and/or a heart. Fuck it, even the Tin Man would raise a guffaw or two although a tear may be asking a little much.

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“I’ve been thinking about myself and I think I can become the kind of person that’s worth you staying for. First of all, I’m a man who can cry. Now it’s true, it’s usually when I’ve hurt myself, but it’s a start”

Allow me to start with Martin himself. In the eighties this guy couldn’t have a bowel movement without us snorting with glee and a string of hits longer than a giraffe’s neck brace attests to such. The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, All of Me and criminally forgotten The Lonely Guy gave evidence of a man on the verge of his apex and he was generally regarded as the funniest man in the business. He continued this run into the nineties and then lost his way a tad, although I would still argue stoutly for moments of brilliance during his supposed ‘artistic downfall’. Nevertheless, he suddenly wasn’t seen in the same light by many and that saddens my soul a little.

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“I call it performance art, but my friend Ariel calls it wasting time. History will decide”

Despite the fact that many were already regarding his best years to have come and passed, with L.A. Story he simply couldn’t come a cropper. The reason for this is simple; he knows exactly where to pitch his tent. Somewhere vaguely outside of reality and barely a block away from whimsy. It can be a hard balance to strike, downright parody will never suit every taste and, it just so happens, that Martin knows a little something about making us laugh. What is more astonishing is that, in one wonderfully surreal scene of quiet perfection, he grabs every single one of our heartstrings. This, for Keeper, is Steve Martin’s finest hour and a half. It’s also notable that Mick Jackson directs as he heralds from my former home town but that’s just a happy accident and Aveley Story doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.


“Some of these buildings are over 20 years old”

Martin penned the wonderful screenplay but it is his performance as wacky weatherman Harris K. Telemacher that truly ices the cake. He is scatty throughout and dances with the fairies frequently but there is truth behind every chortle he incites and he makes numerous astute observations which keep his character grounded. In addition, he is joined by an effervescent clasp of fellow L.A.-ites, all of which he has let in on the joke beforehand. In particular, Sarah Jessica Parker as ditzy but affable airhead SanDeE and Richard E Grant as awkward Englishman Roland are an absolute joy and Victoria Tennant’s Sara provides the ideal love interest.


“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”

Whether giving gentle and well-mannered digs at the ‘L.A. lifestyle’ or shoveling in the slapstick, it walks a fine line with the grace of a ballerina and it becomes impossible not to grin like a gibbon as this intimate tale unfurls. However, the real kicker comes in the final act where Enya’s hauntingly hypnotic Exile plays over the moment when the true magic of L.A. is revealed in stunning style. One minute he is chewing the fat with a hopelessly romantic traffic billboard and the next it has rubbed off and we all learn something about believing in the minor miracle. It’s there if you search and he teaches us as much where we weren’t expecting the schooling.

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“There’s someone out there for everyone – even if you need a pickaxe, a compass, and night goggles to find them”

I’ve revealed very little of the plot and there is a clear method to my madness. L.A. Story deserves to be experienced as nothing I say can fully convey the magnitude of what his labor of love accomplishes. I have watched thousands upon thousands of motion pictures over my forty years and repeat viewing isn’t an exercise I have enough time for, as honorable as my best intentions. may be. However, if I were to wake up with webbed feet and a dislocated head one day and were in absolutely agonizing pain, then this is the only movie I would wish to watch. That, in itself, speaks volumes.

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“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”

It’s his magnum opus in my opinion, the most complete of his works and the one which shows the greatest degree of star alignment. From the opening shot to the setting of the sun, his film puts not so much as a pinky out-of-place and there are precious few works of art which can boast that accolade. My own L.A. Story has just come to a close, for the time being at least, and I am back in the mothership eating Yorkshire pudding and drinking cups of tea. But I left a piece of my heart there and his masterpiece proves that it is safely stowed in a place far detached from the mini-malls and car washes. Somewhere, not too far from a freeway traffic billboard, is where it resides and I would never have realized such without this the enchanting L.A. Story.

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“Forget for this moment the smog and the cars and the restaurant and the skating and remember only this. A kiss may not be the truth, but it is what we wish were true”

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10

Read Garden State Appraisal

Read After Hours Appraisal

Read The Secret Life of Walter Kitty Appraisal

Read The Wolf of Wall Street Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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  1. When Alice stepped into her land of wonder
    it produced such wonderful things.
    The scares, the laughter, the journey
    that such curiosity brings.
    An open heart and an open mind
    bring treasure for all to find.
    See bright the lights, happiest smiles and
    sunsets that go on for miles and miles.
    You had an adventure most would die to experience.
    Hold on to it always for it’s pure magnificence.
    Glad you enjoyed your adventure and the appraisal came at the perfect time for you!
    Timing is Always Everything

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