There’s a well documented impression of the entertainment business in L.A. being full of shallow narcissists whose intentional ignorance is somehow validated by an excess of cash and conspicuous consumption. I promised myself I would never use the word “Kardashian” in a review but if I could they would be the perfect example. The detached bubble of the wealthy, of course, is not specifically an L.A. phenomenon but when you mix money, movies, and the West coast you get a unique flavor of it.
There’s also a long tradition of exaggerating and lampooning that culture in films and TV. From L.A. Story to Get Shorty to Californication writers take shots at L.A. and get their teeth right into the hand that feeds them down to the bone. That snark is funny, especially to those who live outside the city of angels.
“Her accomplishment creating a great film while wearing all those hats is more impressive when you consider this is her first time directing. She’s a natural.”
In Michelle Morgan’s comedy It Happened in L.A. we revisit this Los Angeles of diaphanous people with fresh eyes and smartly drawn characters.
Morgan is a real filmmaker. She wrote, starred in, and directed. She has the rhythm and feng shui of classic comedy down to a science that becomes art. Her accomplishment creating a great film while wearing all those hats is more impressive when you consider this is her first time directing. She’s a natural: a cinematic polyglot.
The relationships of several couples and recently uncoupled singles unfold as they navigate the L.A. crazy of dating and romance. Annette (played by Morgan) is the star around which this universe revolves (just ask her). She is a force of nature, relentlessly irritating but also charming and beautiful so she gets away with it. She begins this tale awful and self-absorbed. She loathes both party games and screenwriters but she seems doomed to be around them. Her annoyance with her screenwriter boyfriend Elliot’s (Jorma Taccone) ineffectiveness at meeting her ideals when the couples around her seem perfectly happy drives her to break up with him.
Elliot is a submissive who only enjoys women who put him down and take charge. He is miserable without Annette and even defends her flaws after they break up. In due course he befriends a prostitute he meets at a bar, though still pays her for sex. As foreplay he makes her read a script re-enacting a squabble he had with Annette.
Jimmy (Adam Shapiro) is lead actor on Elliot’s successful viking adventure TV drama. Swaggering and handsome, Jimmy’s got it figured: he’s not in the least bit confused about his life. He wants to do television, enjoy his wealth, and sex all the women. His confident joie de vivre is refreshing in this company of swirling angst and perceived failure.
“Narcissism runs amok in this infantile hyper-privileged tribe, all frustrated because the world doesn’t constantly mold itself to their changing expectations.”
Annette’s friend Baker (Dree Hemingway) while struggling to meet someone new turns to banging her interior decorating client. He’s an older man, Tom (Tate Donovan, underutilized here) satisfied with enjoying sex with a younger woman, yet Baker fantasizes a commitment, asking him “Why can’t you be as good as you are in my head?”
Narcissism runs amok in this infantile hyper-privileged tribe, all frustrated because the world doesn’t constantly mold itself to their changing expectations. Annette notes that “palm trees are very condescending.”
The entertainment industry pervades their lives. All are actors, writers, or would-be writers. In this artfully snarky L.A. everyone is writing a script. Everyone is acting, as if the camera was following them at all times. Dealing with romances ending and exploring the world after proves educational and hysterical.
In the wrong hands, this could have been a very dry repetition of situations seen onscreen before, but Morgan deftly and gently introduces sympathetic characters we become attached to despite their flaws. Music is always important as well, and Morgan set this finely tuned ballet of angst and humorous vexation to a great soundtrack and beat for beat, the rhythm is right.
It Happened in L.A. (2017) Written and directed by Michelle Morgan. Starring Michelle Morgan, Jorma Taccone, Dree Hemingway.
8 out of 10