L.A. Times follows a half dozen or so young adults as they navigate the ins and outs of romantic relationships in contemporary Los Angeles. It’s a Nora Ephron set-up mixed with the formal precision of a Wes Anderson movie mixed and the witty-fast dialogue of a Whit Stillman film. It’s a funny film, and the wittiness of the script and likability of the cast more than makes up for the lack of investment I felt in the characters they were playing halfway through the film.
The set-up – Annette (writer/director/star Michelle Morgan) and Elliot have been living together and dating for five and half years. Annette thinks their friends are happier than her and Elliot, and in hopes of finding a happier life, Annette and Elliot split up and reenter the dating world. They and their friends all work in the arts and entertainment industry.
As the title discloses, this film is set in L.A., and to it’s credit, it’s set in the real Los Angeles, not the one we typically see in movies. There are no romantic trips to Griffith Park Observatory here or clandestine raids on the Hollywood sign. The young adults live in a hilly neighborhood in Craftsman-era houses and house-sit for one another when someone goes to work on vacation in Vancouver. They have game nights and casually mention classic films, but not the obscure ones, and they’re not movie geeks. They reference Vertigo, but they forget its name. They sometimes do the things they’ve seen people do in movies, but they do them badly, though they don’t necessarily recognize how badly they’ve done them. They’re each in love with an idea and very capable of deluding themselves into believing the they have obtained it.
So Samantha’s disaffection rocks her world. She loses perspective on her life because she starts comparing it with others, and everyone is presenting an image of perfection to the world. This is a fact of human existence. We only see the parts of people’s lives they want to show us, and we know our own lives intimately. When we know another person intimately, we know their lives intimately too, so we think we are capable of seeing others’ lives with the same candidness.
Samantha and Elliot’s need is to love their life for what it is. Romantically, they have to stop pursuing some fake, ideal person they’ve created in their minds, and love the person they’re with instead. L.A. Times ties a nice thematic bow on itself in the film’s final moments, and it also has the self-awareness to make a joke about it too. By the end of the film, I was invested in the characters and wanted to spend more time with them. I want to see where their lives lead. I’m sure they’ll be frustrating at times and prone to making the mistakes they make throughout this film again, but I also think they’re on an upward path of self-awareness and contentment. In any case, I’ll certainly be looking forward to seeing what Michelle Morgan does next.