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.

Michelle Morgan
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.

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

  • Gkids Takes Salvador Simó’s ‘Buñuel in

    Gkids Acquires ‘Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Gkids, the U.S. distributor of ten Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations including this year’s “The Breadwinner,” has acquired North American rights to Spaniard Salvador Simó’s “Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles.” Gkids will release the film theatrically next year. The animated feature is sold worldwide by Spain’s Latido Films; the all-rights [...]

  • Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to

    Film Review: 'Mary Poppins Returns'

    Nostalgia is a quaint word, one that summons visions of things that are toasty, comfy, wholesome, reassuring — all qualities, as it happens, that we associate with the 1964 Walt Disney nanny-from-heaven musical “Mary Poppins.” Yet nostalgia can also be a magical thing. It’s the great time machine of human emotion, with the power to [...]

  • O_163_wem_1360_comp_v003_01,1159 2 – L-R: Gwilym Lee

    SAG Award Nominations: Biggest Snubs and Surprises

    At the SAG Awards nominations Wednesday morning, “A Star Is Born” led the film pack with four nods and while that wasn’t a surprise, there were plenty of snubs and surprises that caught us off guard. On the television side, a plethora of co-stars are competing against each other, as both male and female actors [...]

  • DF-04714_R2 - Jennifer Lawrence stars as

    20th Century Fox Takes Final Bow at CineAsia

    If it is possible to feel sympathy for the demise of a competitor, such feelings were on display Wednesday evening at the CineAsia distributors and exhibitors’ convention in Hong Kong. 20th Century Fox made what was expected to be its final product presentation at the event as an independent studio. The mega-acquisition of Fox by [...]

  • SAG Awards Placeholder

    SAG Nominations Scorecard: Netflix Leads the Pack

    Netflix led the way among all networks and studios with this year’s SAG nominations, garnering 15 nods thanks to programming like “GLOW,” “Ozark,” “Grace and Frankie” and “The Kominsky Method.” “Ozark” was among the select group of titles to snare four nominations, along with “A Star Is Born” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” On the [...]

  • SAG Nominations: 'A Star Is Born,'

    'A Star Is Born,' 'Mrs. Maisel,' 'Ozark' Lead SAG Awards Nominations

    Musical drama “A Star Is Born” led the way with four SAG feature film nominations, while “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Ozark” each scored a quartet of TV nominations. “BlacKkKlansman” and “The Favourite” both took a trio of film nominations, followed by “Barry,” “GLOW,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “The Kominsky Method,” each scoring three TV [...]

  • Marvelous Ms Maisel

    SAG Award Nominations: Complete List

    Nominations for the 25th annual SAG Awards were announced on Wednesday. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” led film nominations with four nods, including best actor for Cooper, best actress for Gaga, best ensemble, and best supporting actor for Sam Elliot. “BlacKkKlansman” and “The Favourite” followed close behind, both taking home a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content