L.A. Times plays like the flipside of the coin that is Whit Stillman’s aristocratic male-centric New York, where snoots court debutantes and intellectualize feeling superior. In writer/director/star, Michelle Morgan’s West Coast, a group of friends attempt to find love, happiness, or just plain contentment in the superficial landscape of L.A. - not Los Angeles, but L.A., as Thom Anderson would say.
There’s Annette, who never fails to tell the harsh truth despite how that makes her friends feel. There’s her best friend, Baker, an unlucky-in-love bachelorette who can’t seem to get a date, at least not the kind you’d traditionally want. Then we have Elliot, the TV writer whom Annette has just dumped for no good reason, other than her suspicions that she might not be as happy as the image her couple-friends project.
It’s hard to like these characters, but that doesn’t make them any less comedically watchable. Their neuroses stem from being privileged and spoiled, making them uniquely L.A., and it’s frustrating to watch people who have everything struggle to feel it isn’t enough. But it also makes for some wickedly funny dialogue and biting satire about prevalent personality types that are distinct to their weather-blessed city.
Annette has no filter in terms of her supercilious feelings and the biggest victim of this is her newly ex-boyfriend Elliot, who loves his partner masochistically. For my money, Elliot and his complexes provide the film with its richest laughs and also some of its most poignant moments as someone who appreciates Anette’s judgmental scorn. “He’s not that great”, she tells her friends, frustrated by their assumption that she’s landed a wonderful man. And yet, not only does he acquiesce to her judgment, he considers it a sign of her intelligence.
In the end, L.A. Times makes a wiser point about the nature of relationships and the search for happiness than you might think these characters are initially capable of. With a self-reflexivity that makes the film stand out from the many films of its #L.A.SoVapid ilk, Morgan’s feature debut brings a much-welcome bygone sensibility to a subject that you might think doesn’t have anything left to say. You’ll be delighted to stand corrected.
This has been a difficult Sundance to review impartially, because some of ScreenAnarchy’s most pivotal players have brought some excellent work to this year’s festival. XYZ is killing it on the cult front, particularly with one of my favorite films of the fest: I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking what you’ve just read reeks of nepotism. But understand something about me: I would’ve been relieved to dislike this film, produced by festival editor, Ryland Aldrich, as it would mean I could focus my attentions elsewhere... not that I’d take any joy in friends of mine making bad work. But much to my annoyance, considering my workload, I couldn’t help but confront how much I dug L.A. Times. I cannot ignore a film that rubs me in the same satisfying way as the Whit Stillman trilogy, while managing to completely stand on its own. Bravo.