Los Angeles’ wackiest weatherman (Steve Martin) juggles his career and love life, with the help of an electronic freeway sign. Also stars Victoria Tennant, Richard E. Grant, Marilu Henner, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Directed by Mick Jackson.
Steve Martin’s love letter to life and the people of Los Angeles is an underrated gem, seemingly forgotten among a new generation of movie-goers. A modest hit when it was released in 1991, the film has gained a cult-like following in the years since. It’s easy to see why: the film is chock-full of sight gags, goofy jokes, and wry humor that has aged well for a 90’s comedy. That’s why the film is finally getting a Blu-ray release for its 30th anniversary.
Upon its initial release, L.A. Story was a modest hit, but was considered a bit too much of an inside joke about the city itself to ever have widespread appeal. That’s not really a fair assessment, as the film (written by Martin) is a satirical look at modern society, and Los Angeles is only a backdrop to the eccentricities and shortcomings of people seeking love and purpose.
Martin plays Harris Telemacher, a TV weatherman who is bored with his life and his girlfriend (Marilu Henner). All of that changes when a magical electronic freeway sign begins giving him advice on life. He soon meets his soul mate in a British writer (Victoria Tennant), even as he’s dating a much younger woman (Sarah Jessica Parker), all while his professional life goes south.
The fairly-standard rom-com plot is delivered on a wave of witty dialogue and visual gags, all with a sense of otherworldly whimsy that movies rarely attempt these days. Oddly, though the dreamlike visuals of L.A. are on-point, the tone rarely goes all-in on the fantastical approach, choosing instead to alternate between slapstick comedy and social satire. That makes some of the more absurd jokes a bit jarring, even if they are funny.
Sadly, one of the weakest aspects of the film is the casting of Victoria Tennant as the love interest. Although it made sense to cast her at the time (she was the real-life wife of Steve Martin), her character comes across as cold and often indifferent, and there isn’t the chemistry between the two that you might expect. An actress that could have matched Martin’s comedic talents would have sold the film’s premise more effectively.
With the notable exception of Tennant, the cast is otherwise superb. Richard E. Grant is the perfect snotty Brit, and Sarah Jessica Parker (in her pre-Sex In The City days) is a sprite-like ray of light. There are even a half-dozen or so well-done cameos, most notably Patrick Stewart (in the midst of his early “Star Trek” stardom) as the judgmental maître d of a trendy restaurant.
I had never seen L.A. Story prior to getting this Blu-ray in-hand, and having watched it four times already, I find more jokes and sight gags with every new viewing. I appreciate the film even more with each viewing, and even when the sillier gags don’t land, the movie itself maintains a unique personality, and a snapshot of Martin in his prime.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
VIDEO AND AUDIO
For this 30th anniversary Blu-ray (the first time the film has been available in HD in America), one might expect a new video transfer to mark the occasion. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
The video transfer is decidedly underwhelming, with a soft image often lacking any reasonable detail beneath a heavy coat of film grain. This doesn’t appear to be a new transfer (it is most likely the transfer used for a 2014 German Blu-ray release), as surely they could have produced a sharper image than is presented here.
There is nice color reproduction, as many daytime scenes feature the bright pastel palette so popular in the early-90s. Skin tones are natural and consistent, even as the level of detail varies scene-to-scene. Scenes shot outdoors fare pretty well, a decided upgrade from the previous DVD transfer I was able to compare it to. Night scenes, however, suffer in quality. Although I understand that the film’s soft focus is likely a deliberate style choice, I expected better fine detail (especially during the night scenes) from the AVC-encoded video.
The audio is a 5.1 DTS track, which makes good use of Martin’s voice-over narration and Peter Melnick’s delightfully playful score. It isn’t a reference-level soundtrack, but for this film, it doesn’t need to be. Several scenes featuring groups of talking people offer some channel separation, and overall, dialogue is presented with solid clarity. An included 2.0 track brings the dialogue to the forefront for simpler audio setups.
Video Rating: 2 out of 5
Audio Rating: 3.5 out of 5
The blu-ray brings back the special features from previous DVD releases, including the 15th anniversary special edition DVD. Most feature interviews recorded on video tape, so image quality isn’t great.
The bonus features are as follows:
*”O2BINLA: Mick Jackson’s L.A. Stories” featurette. Director Mick Jackson discusses how he brought his British sensibilities to his visual interpretation of Los Angeles. Running Time: 23:58
*”The Story of L.A. Story” featurette. In this promotional piece from the film’s 2006 DVD release, Steve Martin, director Mick Jackson, and producer Daniel Melnick discuss the inspirations for the film, and how the production brought it to life. Running Time: 12:34
*”The L.A. of L.A. Story” featurette. Production designer Lawrence Miller discusses the iconic Los Angeles locations used in the film, and revisits the location of the famed freeway sign. Running Time: 15:33
*Deleted Scenes and Outtakes. 18 different deleted scenes and outtakes are included, most notably the scenes involving John Lithgow (who is hilarious in a sub-plot completely removed from the film). Scenes included are: ‘Wacky Weather,’ ‘The Boxer, Part I,’ ‘Moral Fiber,’ ‘Kazoo Church,’ ‘Cemetery Talk,’ ‘Freeway Sign, Part I,’ ‘When Harris Meets Harry,’ ‘John Lithgow Uncut,’ ‘Harris Goes Commercial,’ ‘Harry Zell Skipping,’ ‘Harry Zell Drops In,’ ‘The Boxer, Part II,’ ‘The Boxer, Part III,’ ‘Harris’ Skating Argument,’ ‘The Boxer, Part IV,’ ‘Freeway Sign, Part 2,’ ‘Alternate Ending,’ and ‘Alternate Ending Textless.’ Total Running Time: 20:51
*Original Marketing Materials. Among the materials included are a 1991 Electronic Press Kit Promotional Featurette (5:40), a Teaser Trailer (1:48), a Theatrical Trailer (1:18), and Six TV Spots (Total Running Time 4:14).
*Digital Copy. A code for a digital copy of the film, redeemable through services including VUDU and iTunes, is included. The code is not redeemable through the Movies Anywhere service.
Special Features Rating: 3 out of 5
Release Date: November 9, 2021
Running Time: 98 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS HDMA, English 2.0 DTS HDMA
Subtitles: English and Spanish