Film Review: It Happened in L.A.A sharp, witty Los Angeles satire full of quotable gold, 'It Happened in L.A.' delightfully portrays its writer-director’s love-hate relationship with the City of Angels.
Love-hate relationships with urban metropolises make for juicy cinematic satire. There is no prouder term of endearment a denizen can grant to her city than an open declaration of self-deprecating loathing. Michelle Morgan’s nonstop witty, and at times laugh-out-loud funny It Happened in L.A. starts slow but in the end delightfully portrays one such relationship between a town and one of its millions of dwellers—in this case, the writer-director herself, who also plays the perennially dissatisfied yet oddly loveable lead character.
Morgan’s Los Angeles is full of a certain breed of superficial West Coast people who in theory should be as unlikeable as leftover kale salad or artisanal cocktails served in mason jars in restaurants with two-noun names like “Lettuce & Tomato.” But you can’t really sneer at them when they are clearly in on the joke. Thanks to the film’s insistence on wearing its light satirical air proudly on its sleeve, It Happened in LA is refreshingly not another “privileged people having trivial troubles” film and compulsively watchable even when its characters get on your nerves.
Annette (Morgan), a writer on hiatus and a self-defined objector to walking and juvenile games like Twister, is our way into to this world where everyone’s working on some sort of a script. “It’s about this girl who dies from touching this thing, and I’m working out the rest,” someone hilariously states at one point, just to give you an idea. Despite being in a seemingly fulfilling relationship with her boyfriend Elliot (Jorma Taccone), a writer on a TV show that looks like a ridiculous spoof of “Game of Thrones,” Annette decides they aren’t happy enough together, especially when compared to some of their blissful friends. So she breaks up with him, moves into a friend’s apartment to housesit and starts evaluating her new romantic prospects. Meanwhile, her good friend Baker (Dree Hemingway), an interior decorator with flawless taste in everything but men, deals with her own share of issues. Romantically pursued by her cousin (Kentucker Audley) and emotionally mistreated by her client-turned-boyfriend Tom (Tate Donovan), Baker is the type who seems to create her own problems and complicate simple situations for herself. And we follow Elliot too while Annette and Baker go off on their own misadventures: He gets involved with a blunt, no-nonsense hooker (Margarita Levieva) who asks odd personal favors from him, with amusing results.
Of course, you can guess the type of predictable lesson Annette would eventually learn. This is the age of Instagram ,as we were recently reminded by Ingrid Goes West, another Los Angeles-based (yet much darker) comedy and we are all posing and playing versions of ourselves in our daily lives. In the end, Annette doesn’t really have it that bad and everyone but she seems to know it. But her self-discovery (which is a joke in itself) is the lesser point in It Happened in L.A., which charms, gratifies and sometimes purposely repulses us with the flaky rhythms of a town Morgan clearly adores but also loves to hate. Peppered with hat tips to Yasujiro Ozu and Federico Fellini and contemporary quips like “I don’t feel like eating out of a truck tonight” that consistently land, Morgan’s script is filled with sharp, quotable gold. And her filmmaking sensibility—often manifested in various impeccably composed, postcard-like shots—is marked by a promisingly sophisticated, stylish flair. One might be inclined to compare Morgan to Woody Allen, but her humor is more akin to Whit Stillman, as her It Happened in L.A. is La La Land’s modern-day answer to Metropolitan.
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