For a film which rarely registers highly on a list of great Steve Martin films, I love LA Story because it is a genuine tale of irreverence, comedy and love.  

In my opinion, this is Martin’s last great film before he descended into family comedies and strange remakes of classics.

The film was released in 1991 and I watched it as a young teenager, somehow being able to understand most references and jokes.

I frequently returned to the film during my late teens and early 20s and only then began to understand just how Martin and director Mick Jackson wanted the film to be seen.

For those unfamiliar with the film, it tells the tale of Harris K. Telemacher – played by Martin, who also wrote the script – who is the wacky weatherman for a LA TV station.

It opens with a montage of a variety of quirky LA style characters and characteristics, with the French language song “La Mer” providing a soothing tone.

Harris is unaware that he is deeply unsatisfied with his LA way of life i.e. varieties of coffees being drunk at frequent brunch parties with two-faced people, including himself.

The arrival of English journalist Sara (Victoria Tennent) to one party as a guest of her ex-husband Roland – played brilliantly pompously by Richard E Grant – allows Harris to see a way out of this life.

He is pushed along this path by a freeway signpost providing relationship and general advice as Harris tends to his broken-down car.

The signpost dishes out riddles and questions to Harris so that he can take the decisions needed to change jobs and get out of a stale relationship.

He decide to guide Sara around LA, providing the film with some of its best dialogue as he satirises LA’s perceived lack of cultural history.

Throughout this, Harris realises he is falling for Sara as he tries desperately to show his cultural side.

This reflects Martin’s writing through his frequent references to William Shakespeare, including a superb cameo from long-time collaborator Rick Moranis.

Martin gives the graveyard scene from Hamlet an LA twist when he talks about a great magician whom Harris knew, providing the leads with a connection.

It was this scene that first really drew me into the film as the use of wind to signify change in the characters is clear and well used.   

The interaction and falling in love between Harris and Sara is genuine and warming – purposely so against a background of falseness and shallowness.

However, Martin draws on Shakespearian comedy aspects when he introduces SanDeE, played by a young and energetic Sarah Jessica Parker, who embarks on an affair with Harris.

Simultaneously, Harris’ partner is having an affair with his agent, while Roland is desperate to reclaim his lost love, resulting in an almost farcical set of near-misses.

Eventually, Harris, SanDeE, Sara and Roland bump into each other, setting up a more serious and ideological finish to the film which impacted on me is a huge way.

The idea that the lengths one person would go to ensure their love for another could happen has always impressed on me.

This climatic scene, with the fantastic use of “Exile” by Enya, sums up completely why I love LA Story – it is simply about love, destiny and desire as well as being just a little bit clever.  

Written by Barrie White

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.