×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘It Happened in L.A.’

Writer-director-star Michelle Morgan dissects thirtysomethings looking for love in Los Angeles.

Director:
Michelle Morgan
With:
Michelle Morgan, Dree Hemingway, Jorma Taccone, Kentucker Audley, Margarita Levieva, Adam Shapiro, Angela Trimbur, Robert Schwartzman, Nora Zehetner, Tate Donovan, Andre Hyland, James Ransone, Antonio Cupo.

1 hour 36 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5952006/

The challenge of finding the right romantic partner seems to be the theme of every other American indie at Sundance, and “It Happened in L.A.” definitely suffers from privileged-white-people-natter-on-about-their-relationships fatigue. But first-time writer/director (and also star) Michelle Morgan brings just enough specificity, and a surprisingly sharp eye, to make the film an interesting calling card for future work. Whether there’s anything here that will appeal beyond a very small niche audience is another matter.

With a heavy dose of Whit Stillman and sprinklings of Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, and Lena Dunham, among others, Morgan explores the intersecting lives and romances of three thirtysomething Angelenos, beginning with Annette (Morgan), an aspiring writer whose withering judgment of everyone and everything in her life proves impossibly irritating.

Annette’s boyfriend Elliot (Jorma Taccone) is the creator of a Z-grade “Game of Thrones” knockoff called “Haggard’s Landing,” which has raised his professional profile but done little to earn him the respect of perpetually demanding Annette. But then nothing earns Annette’s respect, as her stalwart BFF Baker (Dree Hemingway) knows all too well.

While Baker suffers the indignities of dating in L.A. — a fling with a wealthy client (Tate Donovan) of her interior decorating business ends badly, and her cousin (Kentucker Audley) keeps promising to set her up with a colleague who never materializes — Annette decides she’s not happy with Elliot and breaks off their five-and-a-half-year romance. As she tells friend Nora (Nora Zehetner), who seemingly has an ideal relationship with actor b.f. Michael (Antonio Cupo), “When you’re with the right person you just know.”

What Annette doesn’t quite realize is that she’s such a pill, most men will bolt at the first opportunity. And those little things that annoyed her about Elliot — he likes playing games, he isn’t good at building things — aren’t that unusual in the city. Elliot, meanwhile, falls into despair, refusing to lose himself in meaningless flings at the suggestion of his show’s leading man (Adam Shapiro), and hitting it off with an assertive mystery woman (Margarita Levieva) who turns out to be an escort.

As Annette, Baker, and Elliot continue on their separate paths, an overwhelmingly bleak portrait of single life begins to emerge. But the view of relationships Morgan appears to be working toward — nobody’s perfect, so appreciate what you have — winds up a little pat for the self-inflicted wounds her characters keep trying to emotionally bandage.

The writer/director dresses up the ordeals with florid language and attempted witticisms, but lines like “Palm trees are very condescending” and “You think the painting is imposturous” elicit more eye-rolls than chuckles. It doesn’t help that the lead players aren’t very good company: Annette is too annoying, Elliot too bland, and Baker too passive (despite Hemingway’s captivating performance).

And yet as a first-timer, Morgan promises better things to come on two fronts: The spiky character roles she creates for Levieva and Angela Trimbur, as a volatile “other woman” pivotal in reorienting Annette’s point of view on relationships, both succeed in bursting the film’s hermetically sealed bubble. Following either of these ladies outside of la la land might have been a worthy endeavor. And the precise and playful visuals, composed with d.p. Nicholas Wiesnet, do more than anything else to distinguish the film from too many others of its ilk.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'It Happened in L.A.'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 21, 2017. Running time: 96 MIN. (Original title: “L.A. Times”)

Production: A Stern Talking To and Hyperion Point production Producers: Ryland Aldrich, Alix Madigan, Jared Stern. Executive producers: Ricky Blumenstein, Tom Dolby, Susanne Filkins, Paul Finkel, Michael J. Mailis, Abdi Nazemian, Jason Potash, Jorma Taccone, Susan Wrubel.

Crew: Director/writer: Michelle Morgan. Camera (color, HD): Nicholas Wiesnet. Editor: John-Michael Powell. Music: Anthony Willis.

With: Michelle Morgan, Dree Hemingway, Jorma Taccone, Kentucker Audley, Margarita Levieva, Adam Shapiro, Angela Trimbur, Robert Schwartzman, Nora Zehetner, Tate Donovan, Andre Hyland, James Ransone, Antonio Cupo.

More Film

  • Send Me to the Clouds

    Film Review: ‘Send Me to the Clouds’

    The social and economic pressures felt by China’s “leftover women” — referring to those older than 26 and unmarried — are examined in “Send Me to the Clouds,” a rewarding dramedy about a 30-ish journalist seeking financial reward and sexual fulfillment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bold by mainland standards for presenting a positive [...]

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As previously announced, Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

  • Todd Phillips Joaquin Phoenix Joker Movie

    What's Woker Than 'Joker'? Film Critics Made Everything Political at Fall Festivals

    “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Joaquin Phoenix, playing a deranged incel version of the DC supervillain in “Joker,” the unconventional comic book movie that’s sucked up much of the air from the fall festival circuit. Like an aggro caricature of the “involuntary celibates” who troll message boards online, [...]

  • Running Against the Wind

    Young Africans' Dreams Are Focus of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda Oscar Picks

    Films about young Africans trying to fulfill their dreams in the face of war, poverty, tradition and other forms of adversity have been submitted for Oscar consideration by three East African nations. The selections by Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda to compete in the international feature film category reflect the relative youth of filmmaking in the [...]

  • Bob Bakish Viacom CEO

    ViacomCBS Leaders Talk NFL Negotiations, Streaming Wars and Merger Focus

    Viacom and CBS aim to prosper in the streaming arena by covering both ends of the marketplace, blending Viacom’s focus on ad-supported platforms with CBS’ strong head start on subscribers for CBS All Access and Showtime. ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish and incoming ViacomCBS chief financial officer Christina Spade outlined the combined company’s vision for how [...]

  • Steven Poster ICG National President

    DP Steven Poster to Receive SOC Lifetime Achievement Award

    Stephen Poster, cinematographer on such classics as “Donnie Darko” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” will receive the Lifetime Achievement Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Camera Operators at a ceremony on Jan. 18, 2020. SOC grants the award to an Individual who has served the community at large and/or the Society through outstanding service [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content