How Steve Martin Lovingly Skewered Los Angeles in ‘L.A. Story’
On Feb. 8, 1991, Steve Martin released his satirical love letter to the City of Angels, L.A. Story.
The film’s plot centered on Martin’s character, Harris K. Telemacher, a local TV weatherman known for his “wacky” delivery style. The meteorologist’s job is so predictable that he occasionally prerecords segments days in advance, knowing Los Angeles weather is unlikely to change.
At one point he even interviews area residents about a freezing cold front that rolled into town and dropped the temperature to 58 degrees.
Telemacher’s job isn’t the only thing that bores him. At the beginning of the movie, he’s in a loveless long-term relationship with Trudi, a personal shopper for Hollywood executives played by Marilu Henner.
Watch the Trailer for 'L.A. Story'
Things take a turn with the introduction of Sara, a British journalist played by Victoria Tennant. After meeting at a group luncheon, Telemacher becomes smitten with the woman, but, as both are already in relationships, they initially embark on a platonic friendship.
While driving home that night, Telemacher’s car breaks down on the side of the freeway. As he inspects the vehicle, a nearby electronic sign begins communicating with him. The weatherman is initially suspicious but eventually interacts with the illuminated sign, which offers help before delivering a riddle. The car suddenly starts again, and a confused but appreciative Telemacher gets back in and drives off.
Elements of Harris’ life continue changing from here. Trudi - to the surprise of no one - has been cheating on him for years, a revelation that finally ends the relationship. With Sara focused on reconciling with her ex-husband, Telemacher turns his attention to Sandy (spelled SanDeE*), a much younger aspiring spokesmodel played by Sarah Jessica Parker. She’s bubbly and good-hearted but totally wrong for the weatherman - a fact he is all too aware of. And as he searches for deeper meaning in his life - in a city obsessed with characteristics that are skin deep - he can’t help but continually come back to Sara, the only person who makes him feel whole.
Watch the SanDeE* Scene From 'L.A. Story'
Like any good romantic comedy, love wins out in the end. With the help of fate, the freeway sign, some strange weather and the music of Enya, Harris and Sara end up together.
The romance infused in L.A. Story had its roots in real life. Martin and Tennant met working on a previous film, 1984’s All of Me. The two were married in 1986, and their electrifying chemistry was evident in L.A. Story. Still, the movie’s true romance was between its creator and Los Angeles. And, unlike the marriage, which ended in divorce in 1994, this love story still holds up.
There are plenty of jokes at L.A.’s expense: Open season on the freeway means a casual gun shootout between cars, earthquakes that shake entire buildings are treated with a casual yawn, ordering at a cafe results in a chorus of decaf and twist-of-lemon requests, armed muggers greet ATM patrons for cordial robberies, a public park filled with exercise equipment like a stationary bike, rowing machine and treadmill cautions “no running.” Still, these ongoing jabs at Los Angeles are made by a man who clearly loves the city, silliness and all. It’s that charm that makes L.A. Story entertaining rather than cynical.
Watch the Springtime Scene From 'L.A. Story'
“It’s an affectionate view of L.A.,” Martin insisted in a behind-the-scenes interview about the movie’s creation. “I’ve lived here all my life, so I have a lot of things, just a catalog of things I think about L.A.”
Beneath its ridiculously materialistic exterior, Martin’s version of Los Angeles has a distinct layer of magic. People from all walks of life converge on the city in search of their dreams. Most of the characters, though undeniably flawed, reveal themselves as quality individuals once their superficial mask is peeled away. One of the freeway sign’s messages to Telemacher echoes that good heart beneath the city’s outlandish surface: “L.A. Wants 2 Help U.”
In one of the movie’s most iconic scenes, Martin’s character roller skates through the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The sight of a grown man wheeling past priceless paintings paralleled the film’s depiction of L.A. - beautiful, ridiculous, incomparable and goofy all at once.
Watch the Art Gallery Scene From 'L.A. Story'
L.A. Story also boasted a litany of cameos from some of Martin’s famous friends, a nod to Los Angeles’ inescapable celebrity culture. Patrick Stewart pops up as a snooty restaurant owner, while Chevy Chase is an entitled diner. Rick Moranis appears as an English grave digger in a scene that nods to Hamlet, one of several Shakespeare references in the film. Elsewhere, Woody Harrelson, Monty Python's Terry Jones and model Iman make brief appearances.
One celebrity absent from the final cut was John Lithgow. The award-winning actor appeared as super-agent Harry Zel, who jetpacks to a lunch meeting with Telemacher and delivers career and life advice - such as the importance of skipping - in less than five minutes. Part of the scene appeared in the movie's trailer, yet, for reasons unknown, it was completely edited out of L.A. Story.
Watch a Deleted Scene From 'L.A. Story'
Still, for all of its celebrity faces, the film’s biggest star was its location. And by creating a movie that captured both the serious and silly sides of searching for profundity in Los Angeles, Martin successfully distilled the city’s distinct charm.