American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
But there is also a bewitching Los Angeles, a city I glimpsed on my first visit there many years ago, where after my team won in the Rose Bowl I was driven up to Mulholland Drive, and the whole city lay glittering beneath. For a kid from Downstate Illinois, there was something enchanting going on down there - there was the promise of not merely success and the fulfillment of lust, but even of happiness and the fulfillment of dreams.
None of that has much to do with the reality of the city, I am aware, and sometimes the dreams seem buried by car washes and mini-malls, smog and traffic and urban wretchedness. But "L.A. Story" is a light-hearted fantasy that asks us to accept one small possibility, and promises us we may find contentment if we keep an open mind. That possibility is that a giant electrical traffic warning billboard might one day start sending personal messages to a TV weatherman, suggesting how he can make improvements in his life.
The weatherman is named Harris K. Telemacher (Martin), and he specializes in goofy weather reports that have little connection with actual climatic conditions. He makes enough money to move in an affluent circle of beautiful people who seem prepared to sit in the sunshine ordering cappuccino for the rest of their lives. Then Telemacher is fired, and discovers that his girlfriend (Marilu Henner) is having an affair, and with relief and a certain feeling of freedom he walks out of the relationship and takes stock of his life, inspired by the sentient highway sign. (He is not without his own difficulties in believing that the sign is on the level; the first time it talks to him, he looks around in paranoid despair, convinced he's on "Candid Camera.") The sign urges him to telephone a number that's been given to him by a friendly Valley Girl in a clothing store, and before long he finds himself in an energetic relationship with SanDeE(STAR) (Sarah Jessica Parker), who like many Southern Californians spells her name as if it were an explosion at the type foundry.
SanDeE(STAR) has a carefree and liberating air, but eventually Telemacher has to admit that the woman he's really attracted to is Sara (Victoria Tennant), a British journalist in town to do a story on L.A. lifestyles.