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Film / 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."

L.A. Story is a romantic comedy starring (and written by) Steve Martin. Harris K. Telemacher (Martin) is a weatherman in L.A. whose love life is assisted by a mysterious, magical talking freeway sign. The city of Los Angeles is a star as well, one of the themes of the movie being the often bizarre attributes of the city itself, from the weather to earthquakes to the "fake" citizenry. Marilu Henner, Victoria Tennant and a pre-Sex and the City Sarah Jessica Parker play the love interests of Harris. The movie is peppered with humorous cameo appearances, from Patrick Stewart's scene-stealing maître d'hôtel to Rick Moranis' gravedigger. (And yes, that is Paula Abdul as the rollerskater.)


  • An Aesop: "There are only two things in my life I will never forget. One is that there is someone for everyone, even if you need a compass, a pick axe and night goggles to find them. The other is tonight, when I learned that romance does exist, deep in the heart of L.A."
  • Affably Evil: "Hi, my name's Bob, and I'll be your robber."note 
    Harris: Hi. (gives him the cash he just took from the ATM)
  • Alas, Poor Yorick: The Great Blunderman, in Harris' case. Sara still recognizes the reference and completes his soliloquy for him.
  • All Just a Dream: Heavily implied that the entire story is a fantasy inside the head of Harris, who has a PhD in Arts and Humanities - which explains the Shakespeare references - and which is also why the film is one huge Empathic Environment. (Considering it's an update of A Midsummer Night's Dream...)
  • Ambiguously Bi: Roland thinks of Mel Gibson after having sex with Sara.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Ariel, who at the very least has a close live in relationship with another woman. Deleted scenes made the relationship more explicitly gay.
  • Arc Words: "The Weather Will Change Your Life. Twice."
  • Big Door: Lampshaded. Harris takes Sara on a car tour of the good parts of Los Angeles, including through a neighborhood of McMansions. One of them has a front door that goes up about a floor and a half.
    Harris: You know, you're really nobody in this town unless you've got a really big door.
  • Bilingual Bonus. Plenty. "L'Idiot" is "The Idiot". "El Pollo del Mar" is "The Chicken of the Sea".
  • Brass Balls: There's a great scene where Harris (Steve Martin) is walking on down the stairs with arrogant bastard Roland (Richard E. Grant), and there's this metallic clanging noise. Harris asks what it was and Roland says "It's a nuisance. It's my damn testicles."
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Harris takes Sara on a tour around L.A., with one of the stops being the Museum of Musicology. The exhibits feature Verdi's baton, Mozart's quill, and Beethoven's balls, as in Beethoven's testicles kept in a jar.
  • Call-Back: "Let your mind go and your body will follow."
  • The Cameo: Supermodel Iman appears as one of Harris' friends. A year later, she'd appear in a key role in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Sara is alarmed when there's a minor earthquake during dinner, but the locals just pick up their drinks to avoid spilling them and pay it no attention, not even missing a beat in their conversation.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Harris is saddled with his girlfriend Trudi, until she admits to having an affair, which cues an immediate break-up and opens the door to pursuing a less problematic romance.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: All of Los Angeles, according to Roland.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Harris. In spades.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: Harris tries his friend's organic vegetable smoothie, and is disgusted, saying "It's exactly like licking a shag carpet." He pours the rest into one of her houseplants. She finds it dead in a later scene.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Sara. It doesn't help that she has no idea Americans drive on the other side of the road.
    Harris: (who's in the car with her) Right side! Right side! Right side!
    Sara: I don't think he can hear you.
  • Dumb Blonde: SanDeE*
  • Empathic Environment: ...yes.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: The freeway sign plays "Amazing Grace" with electronic bagpipe sounds.
  • Executive Meddling: In-universe, Harris' boss (Woody Harrelson), wants a "more wacky, less egghead" weathercaster. Keep in mind, Harris is already loopier than a rollercoaster in his weather reports.
    Boss: You're doing some sort of intellectual thing.
    Harris: Intellectual? It may seem intellectual to you, because you were educated with with a banana and an inner tube! This is an intellectual-free zone!
    Boss: More wacky, less egghead.
  • Fake Brit: Rick Moranis puts on a British accent in his role as the gravedigger.
    • Also, in-universe, Trudy accuses Sara of doing this... despite the fact that Sara is British!
    Harris: "Oh right, like that big phony, Winston Churchill."
  • French Cuisine Is Haughty: There's a very snooty French restaurant called l'Idiot, where the lead has to show his bank balance and several other references even to get a reservation. Snooty character played to Large Ham perfection by Patrick Stewart.
    "You can't have the duck. Do you think with a financial statement like this you can have the duck?"
  • The Ghost: Agent Harry Zell. All of the characters talk about him in awed tones. He was to have a larger role (played by John Lithgow), but they were all cut save for a very long shot of Lithgow staring at the same traffic sign that Harris would talk to.
  • Give Me a Sign: Literally, the roadside sign that dispenses advice.
    Sign: "Kiss Her, You Fool."
  • Is This a Joke?: Harris' initial reaction to the talking road sign.
    • The Maitre'd at L'Idiot:
    "You think with a financial statement like this, you can have the duck? !"
  • It Tastes Like Feet: When Ariel gives Harris the experimental beverage.
    Harris: It's exactly like licking a shag carpet.
    • Becomes a Brick Joke after Harris pours the rest on a plant, only for Ariel's "roommate" to exclaim the next day "Hey, my plant's dead!"
  • Literally Laughable Question:
    • When Harris K. Telemacher calls up the exclusive restaurant L'Idiot and asks for a reservation for Friday, the response is crazed laughter. When he asks for one on Saturday the response is the same. Only when he asks for one on Sunday does he get a positive response.
    • When Sara suggests going for a walk, Harris collapses in laughter, giggling "A walk in L.A.!" (In a Deleted Scene, they attempt it but Harris gets serious cramps from walking a few feet.) invoked
  • Magic Realism: Many elements, but especially the highway sign.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl:
    • Somewhat mature example. But Sara is a tuba playing journalist, who understands how absurd L.A is.
    • Subverted with SanDeE*. Although she comes off as this at first, and certainly makes a try at it; she doesn't really make any significant change to Harris's life. Eventually, the relationship is treated as just a bad rebound thing which temporarily got in the way of a real relationship with Sara — and SanDeE* was just dating Harris to make her boyfriend jealous (because he said they should try dating other people.)
  • Mistaken for Quake: Inverted in the café scene, which has the ground begin to shake about halfway into the meal. Sara, just in from the UK, worriedly asks what's going on and the others tell her it's just an earthquake.
  • My Nayme Is: SanDeE*. Harris is initially relieved her name is "Sandy," because "everybody has weird names now, like Tiffany with p-h-i, and instead of Nancy it's Nanceen." Then SanDeE* tells him how to spell hers.
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: Harris K. Telemacher.
  • Mythology Gag: Harris tries apologizing to Sara by reciting O Pointy Bird, the poem Martin's character read to Dolores in The Man with Two Brains.
  • Non-Answer: At the end of the film, Harris asks the sign post, "Did I do this? Did you do this? What happened?" The sign post simply plays "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes and all of the signs in L.A. flash "CONDITION CLEAR".
  • Offscreen Crash: in one scene, a man in the background can be seen juggling a chainsaw, and we can hear that it's turned on. Seconds later, as the camera moves away leaving him out of shot, we hear the sound of a man screaming in pain.
  • On the Rebound: Both Harris and SanDeE* are dealing with a breakup and a separation respectively. Sara calls Harris out on it, asking him why he didn't tell her he'd just broken up with someone.
  • Open Relationship Failure: Harris starts a casual relationship with SanDeE*, a ditzy clerk at a clothing store, who tells him her boyfriend doesn't want to be exclusive so they can keep dating other people—before pointing him out to Harris during their date at the Hard Rock Cafe and saying "it backfires on him sometimes." Late in the film, she says the boyfriend wants to go exclusive, she suspects because he wasn't able to get any other dates.
  • Original Position Fallacy: Played for laughs with SanDeE* and her unnamed boyfriend. When Harris takes her on a date to the Hard Rock Cafe, she explains that her boyfriend pushed for them to be in an open relationship so that even though they're together, they can still date other people. "But it backfires on him sometimes," she adds, and points him out by the bar; he gives them a rather nonplussed look. Late in the film, she tells Harris that said boyfriend now wants to go exclusive, she suspects because he couldn't get any other dates.
  • Outlandish Device Setting: Harris' shower, in addition to Hot and Cold, also possesses a Slo-Mo setting, which does indeed cause the action to go into slow motion.
  • Overcomplicated Menu Order: The restaurant scene has the people at the table order espressos of escalating length, with Harris topping them all (and setting the rest of the table telling the waiter to add a twist of lemon to the orders they've already made).
    Harris: I'll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.
  • Pet Homosexual: Ariel, although it's pretty subtle.
  • Piss-Take Rap: L'Idiot apparently hires rapping waiters.
    Waiter: We got hot bread, milk-fed veal and new potatoes
    And a hundred different ways to cook a couple of tomatoes
    If the service is a problem 'cause the place is packed
    Ask for me, I'm Sam the waiter, and I also act
  • Random Passerby Advice: Sara remembers when this once happened to her.
    Sara: I went roller skating once at the Brooklyn Rollerdome. It was awful. I was completely out of control. I slammed right into this 8-foot tall black guy in a green satin jump suit. I said, "I'm sorry, could you help me?" He looked down at me with deeply stoned eyes and said: "Little lady, let your mind go and your body will follow."note 
  • Recycled In Space: A Midsummer Night's Dream as a The '90s Romantic Comedy!
  • Recycled Premise: The movie's basic plot is similar to A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • Right Through the Wall: Harris and SanDeE* end up in the hotel room next to Sara and Roland.
  • Road Trip Across the Street: Complete with swelling orchestra, as Harris drives to his next door neighbor.
  • Romantic False Lead: Two, SanDeE* , who is something of a rebound girl for Harris, who he splits up with fairly amicably at the end (especially since she freely admitted she was dating Harris to make her boyfriend jealous); and Roland, Sara's ex-husband, who's only real flaw is his arrogance, which he seems unaware of.
  • Romantic Rain: At the end of the movie, the magical freeway sign controls the weather to prevent Sara from returning to London. Sara takes a taxi to the home of her love interest Harris Telemacher, and they embrace and kiss in a rainstorm.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Especially Hamlet's gravedigger scene.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Parodied. The road sign makes Harris and Sara's car break down and then travel to it, and Sara starts trying to rationalize it away with some kind of technobabble. The sign flashes "KISS HER", and Harris does. After breaking contact, she picks up her monologue right where she left off; it takes a second "Shut Up" Kiss from Harris to make it stick.
  • Snowclone Title: To New York Stories.
  • Something Else Also Rises: The fountain when Harris and Sara finally make love.
  • Spell My Name with an S: SanDeE*. Not Sandy, "Big S, small A, small N, big D, small E, big E and a star".
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: Parodied.
    • Harris amuses himself by getting his friend Ariel to film him rollerskating through an art museum. He calls it performance art; she apparently calls it "wasting time".
      "History will decide."
    • While touring the same art museum later with Sara and Roland (after colliding with them while filming another rollerskate video), Harris gives a long, rambling art critique about what, after the camera cuts to actually show it, turns out to be a canvas consisting entirely of a red rectangle.
  • Virtual Assistant Blunder: Harris K. Telemacher is trying to program his voice operated answering machine to make calls. When he says "Dial Mom", it calls Domino's Pizza.
  • Wannabe Line: Harris can only get a reservation to the new trendy restaurant by being approved by The Fourth Reich Bank. Roland, meanwhile, gets immediate reservations.
    Mr. Perdue: You think with a financial statement like this you can have the duck?!
  • Weather Saves the Day: The Power of Love and/or Empathic Environment causes a huge rainstorm which makes Sara's plane unable to take off and leave Harris.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?: Parodied with the hilarious, rambling, erotic critique Harris gives about... a painting of a large, red rectangle.invoked
    Harris: I like the relationships. I mean, each character has his own story. The puppy is a bit too much, but you have to over look things like that in these kinds of paintings. The way he's *holding* her... it's almost... filthy. I mean, he's about to kiss her and she's pulling away. The way the leg's sort of smashed up against her... Phew... Look how he's painted the blouse sort of translucent. You can just make out her breasts underneath and it's sort of touching him about here. It's really... pretty torrid, don't you think? Then of course you have the onlookers peeking at them from behind the doorway like they're all shocked. They wish. Yeah, I must admit, when I see a painting like this, I get emotionally... erect.