'L.A. Times': Film Review | Sundance 2017

LA Times - Still 1 - H 2017
Courtesy of Sundance

LA Times - Still 1 - H 2017

It's no 'La La Land.'

Michelle Morgan's feature debut is a look at misguided thirtysomething Angelenos and their professional and personal pursuits.

If you’re going to attempt a quasi-farcical look at the behavior of thirtysomething strivers in Hollywood, you need to cut more sharply and dig more deeply than does L.A. Times. This mild confection focused on confused and misguided pretty young things is reasonably well constructed as far as it goes, but there’s nothing new here and the conceit of Hollywood scenesters as being uniformly vapid and creatively void is frankly rather tired at this point. Michelle Morgan’s debut feature is confidently made but doesn’t offer enough urgency or distinction to lift it above the mass of so many other indie titles.

The only person here who speaks with a singular voice and developed opinions is wannabe writer Annette, who just happens to be played by writer-director Morgan herself. Inflexible and extremely judgmental, she’s engagingly different from the others for a while until you remember that similarly smart-mouthed aspiring young characters in 1930s Hollywood movies were about 10 times snappier and more energetic. All the same, it’s fun to hear a character in this reflexively tolerant environment insist, “Of course you should judge someone. You absolutely should!”

The roundelay begins with Annette impulsively breaking off her live-in relationship with the ineffectual Eliot (Jorma Taccone), the creator of a schlocky sword-and-sorcery TV series. He blandly agrees to the separation, only to drift until meeting Ingrid (Margarita Levieva), an alluring if impatient young lady who turns out to be a $500-per-night hooker. He doesn’t mind.

The most actively agitated of the women is Baker (Dree Hemingway), a beautiful guy magnet who’s suddenly come to think that her unhappiness and lack of a lasting relationship stem from her admitted tendency to sleep with men too soon. This intriguing drifter could have been explored more deeply, but searching into the characters’ deeper realms is not on the film’s agenda.

Other, less interesting figures pass through the Hollywood days and nights without having much of interest to say about anything. Everyone’s hopelessly self-involved, of course (what else is new in Hollywood?), and who doesn’t want to make money, but no one speaks with any excitement about what they’re doing, their goals or creative ideas. Vapidity rules the day, and Morgan doesn’t make it interesting by applying the requisite ruthless edge.

Morgan invents little melodramas to fill out the time: An intemperate client who leaves the choice of a new expensive sofa to his interior designer makes her pay for it when he doesn’t like it, and a funny/creepy incest interlude worthy of a French farce crops up when an obsessed guy reveals to his inamorata, rather too late in the game, that they are actually cousins.

The locations, especially in Hollywood’s Whitley Heights and Nichols Canyon, are well chosen, and the hipster nightspots favored by the denizens are on the money.

Production companies: Stern Talking To, Hyperion Point
Cast: Michelle Morgan, Jorma Taccone, Dree Hemingway, Kentucker Audley, Margarita Levieva, Adam Shapiro, Angela Trimbur, Robert Schwartzman, Nora Zehetner, Tate Donovan
Director-screenwriter: Michelle Morgan
Producers: Ryland Aldrich, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Jared Stern
Executive producers: Ricky Blumenstein, Tom Dolby, Susanne Filkins, Paul Finkel, Michael J. Mailis, Abdi Nazemian, Jason Potash, Jorma Taccone, Susan Wrubel
Director of photography: Nicholas Wiesnet
Production designer: Hillary Gurtler
Costume designer: Heather Allison
Editor: John-Michael Powell
Music: Anthony Willis
Casting: Amey Rene
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Next)

97 minutes