Cocktails and Movies Take Out Theater: “LA Story”

by Tim Barley

LA Story celebrates Los Angeles in a well-written, funny, layered look at the City of Angels

LA Story harris telemacher Cocktails and Movies Take Out TheaterRecently (two recently’s, actually), LA had a small earthquake, which reminded me of the scene in LA Story at lunch where everyone just sat around while it happened. And that made me think of one of my favorite movies. Personally, there is no other movie that made me want to move to Los Angeles than the smart, funny romantic comedy LA Story, written by Steve Martin. When you spend your time walking from one lecture hall to the next at the University of Wisconsin in -5 degree temperatures, you cling to the hope that the love story set in the warmth of Southern California on the screen in front of you is real and that it CAN happen to you. It’s a remarkably funny, smart and when taken apart, upbeat look at life and love in the City of Angels. The movie takes a lot of pokes at the “culture” of Los Angeles, from restaurants, celebrity (before the advent of the internet, sex tapes and “instant celebrity”), art, architecture, weather and yes, even Shakespeare. Martin is quoted as saying that it took him over seven years to write this movie and in that time, LA went through a lot of social and cultural change. It’s all there on the screen, with a great supporting cast, including a freeway sign that has lost its voice. This week, Cocktails and Movies shares with you one of our favorites about Los Angeles and it’s warm, sunny “culture.” This is “LA Story…”

The Film:

LA Story Cocktails and Movies Take Out TheaterLA Story
Directed ByMick Jackson
Year Released: 1991
Starring: Steve Martin, Victoria Tennant, Marilu Henner, Sarah Jessica Parker
Rating: PG-13
Runtime:  95 Minutes
Studio: Carolco/Tri-star Pictures

Harris K. Telemacher (Steve Martin) is a TV meteorologist living in Los Angeles, who is in a dead-end relationship with his social-climbing girlfriend Trudi (Marilu Henner), and wants to just find some meaning in his existence. Having lunch with a group of friends, he meets Sara (Victoria Tennant), a journalist from London, and immediately becomes infatuated with her. After his car breaks down on the freeway, a freeway traffic condition sign begins to offer Harris cryptic advice on his love life throughout the movie. He falls for Sara, but she is conflicted because she has tentatively pledged to reconcile with her ex-husband, Roland (Richard E. Grant). Because he feels that a relationship with Sara is unlikely, Harris begins dating SanDeE* (Sarah Jessica Parker), a ditzy wannabe spokesmodel whom he meets at a clothing store. When he finds out that Trudi has been cheating on him for three years with his agent, he decides to pursue Sara. This is complicated by his new relationship with SanDeE* and by Sara’s feeling of obligation to her ex-husband. In the end, with the help of the freeway sign and the weather, he is able to win the girl and the movie ends with “conditions clear” on all the LA freeway traffic signs.

When it’s all boiled down, LA Story is about finding romance in LA and sidestepping the beautiful facades that LA’s citizenry has build around themselves in what some call a cultural desert. Martin’s character even addresses this task of finding that someone “even if you need a pickaxe, a compass, and night goggles to find them” while at the same time skewering the culture (or lack thereof) in LA, while at the same time taking swipes at the very city in which he lives.

cocktails and movies steve martin LA story Take out theaterMartin is perfectly cast as the put upon Harris, who is “so unhappy which he doesn’t know because he’s so happy all the time.” His brilliantly written script moves swiftly and evenly and does a great job of peppering in allusions to Shakespeare while taking turns to poke at all of LA’s “culture” and newsworthy events at the time. While this might seem dated material to anyone who did not live through the 1980’s, it doesn’t feel like it’s out of time when you watch it over again and again. The city itself, long portrayed in film as a smoggy, car clogged cultural mess is portrayed as a bit of a paradise where people have taken nothing and made it into the stuff of their dreams.

This idea of Los Angeles as an Eden, however, doesn’t extend to its socio-cultural ideals as Martin’s wry and comic looks at Angeleno idiosyncrasies such as shopping, dating, dress codes, robbery, freeway shootings, securing a table reservation and the weather are fully scrutinized and then exaggerated ten fold with more tongue-in-cheek affection than malice toward the targets. This accounts for a good deal of the film’s content, during which time the love story retreats into the background and slowly weaves the whole story together.

sarah-jessica-parker-la-storyThe support cast is excellent and doesn’t suffer from any lack of star wattage. Victoria Tennant (at the time, Steve Martin’s real-life wife) plays the fish-out-of-water Sara, who, although from London, seems as confused as everyone else is about their life; she just does it more openly while wading through and discovering the secrets of LA. Richard Grant plays the odd, but well-connected ex-husband, Roland. Sarah Jessica Parker, who had been around in roles in movies like Footloose and Flight of the Navigator really breaks out here as the vapid but beautiful SanDeE* (you have to see the movie to understand the spelling), who suffers from real breasts and who just wants to be a showcase model. Marilu Henner plays Trudi, who has her own secrets that have been taking place since the 80’s (!!), and plays the social climbing girlfriend to perfection. Look for cameos by Patrick Stewart, Chevy Chase, Imam, Kevin Pollack, Woody Harrelson, Paul Abdul and Rick Moranis.

Martin had a great run of films, both writing and acting, when LA Story came out. Having written and starred in The Three Amigos (1986) Roxanne (1987), Martin had collected thoughts on LA during that time and it shows on screen. LA Story is a great, optimistic and upbeat look at a city that really doesn’t get the limelight it deserves, mostly being stereotyped as culturally bereft, smoggy, crowded violent melting pot whose people can’t drive in rain or find love. This movie sets that on its ear and while making you laugh at itself. Maybe it’s time to get this city its own agent…

The Drink

“I’ll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon”  -Harris

In honor of Harris’ order, we’re going to go with a cold coffee drink cocktail. This is the Espresso Martini Vodka cocktail.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 3/4 oz Kahlua coffee liqueur
  • 1/4 oz white creme de cacao
  • 1 oz cold espresso

Preparation:

  1. Pour the vodka, Kahlua, creme de cacao and espresso into a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

I hope you enjoyed today’s movie and a cocktail for our weekly “Take Out Theater” selection. We’ll add a new one each week. Got a suggestion? Email us at info@cocktailsandmovies.com. Until then, have a great night, and remember: don’t watch bad movies without good cocktails.