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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

L.A. Story (1991)

What was it about the late 80s/early 90s that created some truly magical though wildly underappreciated films that feel like my soul was captured on celluloid. Optimistic and wary. Romantic and cynical. Whimsical melancholy. (How Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, one of my favorite bands, described their music. Also my aesthetic.)

This was only my second time seeing this film. One of the things that brought my partner, Ben, and I together was that he was the only other human I'd ever met who considered Joe Versus the Volcano good, let alone one of his favorite movies. Knowing how much I loved Joe's existential absurdism, Ben thought I'd love L.A. Story too. And he was right, I really did. I'm a little angry at myself that I watched it, loved it, Ben gave me a copy, I put it in the appropriate DVD binder and forgot about it for six years.

As I mentioned, it's existential absurdism and it's 100% pure, uncut Steve Martin at his screenwriting best. If you can't deal with the basic premise of the city of Los Angeles reaching out to a deeply unhappy man through a sentient Freeway Conditions sign that had been a bagpipe in an earlier life, I do not know what to tell you. We probably won't ever be friends, but that's okay. (But did you read what I just wrote?? How is that not instantly winning your heart and soul?) The opening credit sequence is a visual love letter to the many ridiculous dichotomies of L.A. Very few writers can pull off truly affectionate snark the way that Martin can. It's clear that he thinks the California culture of the early 90s is laughable but he loves it just the way it is. Get you a man who looks at you the way Steve Martin looks at Wacky TV Weathermen.

There's a lot of delightful nods to Shakespeare that are seemingly inexplicably included but are silly and necessary at the same time. Rick Moranis makes an uncredited appearance as a Gravedigger a la Hamlet and it's one of the loveliest scenes he's ever done. Sarah Jessica Parker proves once again that she's a wildly underrated actress as she plays a pitch perfect and loving caricature of the type of character people assume she must play.

And after watching this movie again, I think I need to buy roller skates? Just to skate through an art museum once in my life.

But the sign. Oh the sign. I burst into tears during the first exchange between sign and Harris out of overwhelming joy. I did it every time the sign reached out and again when I was researching images for my project. I'm not sure why. I keep having the thought, "that is what I wish God was" which is maybe too deep a dive for this project. But the idea of an omnipotent and benevolent being seeing someone in trouble and reaching out to ask

It just takes my breath away.

So out of all the charming, delightful moments that this movie illustrates of both how I see the world and how I long to see it, I decided to paint god. And since "Hiya" is my preferred greeting...

Watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil on paper.

Observations: I need to figure out a better way of capturing my renderings/paintings/etc. My phone camera is good but the capture is less than great. I need to work on my watercolor skills. I knew this but gosh I really know it now. But all told, I'm pretty happy with this one.

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