Writer-director Michelle Morgan’s L.A. Times stands out as the most surprising viewing experience I had at Sundance this year. A comedy of manners set among thirtysomethings in the Los Angeles dating scene is scarcely a novel one. And yet, this 97-minute dive into the complexities and airs of this group turned out to be curiously refreshing — and at times quite funny.
Our entree into this world finds Annette (Morgan) and her longtime boyfriend, Elliot (Jorma Taccone) at a bar, tending to a blind date between friends and debating the likelihood that a woman within their view is a sex worker. It’s quite a traditional open, but very soon the trappings of yet another romantic comedy fade away as each of these characters begins to reveal cracks in their carefully cultivated images. You see, there are no manic pixie dream girls here, nor are there romantic gesture making Adonises — this is just a bunch of messy people trying to sort through love in the modern era.
L.A. Times won my affection with a wry, prickly outlook and moments of scathing, bitter honesty. Annette decides to ditch Elliot on the basis of his tendency to turn one-person jobs into two-person jobs, his affinity for walking and an ill-timed bit of historical trivia. That’s it. Five years on in their relationship and everything is undone by a trashcan. It’s the kind of shameful honesty that launched Lena Dunham to fame. Morgan doesn’t yet have Dunham’s flair for characters — some of the film’s inhabitants are markedly more interesting than others — or her talent for bringing incredible stakes to the trifling affairs that make up life, but she shows off a keen eye.
L.A. Times is a film that will play well with intellectual millennials (not unlike the uproarious but niche Fort Tilden) and may hold particular delight for those ensconced in the Los Angeles entertainment scene, but it’s not likely to breakout beyond that set. There are some genuinely great moments here — a dejected Elliot bonds with a tempestuous sex worker and finds himself asking for nagging as a prelude to her services — but there are also some moments that feel too absurd to float — see cousins making a legitimate go at incest because the dating pool is so shallow.
There’s nothing revolutionary to be found here, but if you fit the aforementioned bill, there are laughs to be had. Moreover, it is quite clear that Michelle Morgan has an interesting future ahead of her. I, at least, will be keeping an eye out for her next project.