Independent Film Review: Only in L.A. (2013)

Chronicles Film
Runtime: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Rated: No MPAA rating
Directors: Jus Riddick, Robert Filios
Writers: Jus Riddick, Matthew Chester
Starring: Jus Riddick, Haley Strode, Kaylon Hunt
Comedy | Crime | Drama | Romance | Thriller
The title, Only in L.A., makes the movie sound like it is going to be a promotional documentary about the city of Los Angeles. It is not. Some might say it should have been. What it does promote is...hope? Residing good buried beneath the skin of humanity? Ok. We’ll take it.

From the IMDb description: “Set in and around Los Angeles, we follow a series of vignettes that capture a unique moment of love, hate, clarity, confusion, triumph, and failure among our characters’ relationships with one another and with the city itself.”

Ask around and you’ll find that this is as good a description as any of what is accomplished in Jus Riddick’s and Rob Filios’ film, which is divided into six segments: “Hollywood”, “Silverlake”, “3rd and Fairfax”, “West Hollywood”, “San Fernando Valley”, and “Studio City.” And therein lies the initial hurdle in presenting the film’s vision: it is hard to elaborate further since the movie is spliced together with unrelated stories that don’t involve each other with the exception of their being in the geographical location of California. Those who worship the liberals-to-liposuction L.A. scene may more easily look past this, but when we don’t see other intertwining themes or plot connections, it stands out.

What the film does (but shouldn’t) do well: Showcases L.A., but while doing so, grabs popular media stereotypes and gives them brief stories to hold them up. But that’s not such a bad thing in and of itself—or it wouldn’t have been had it managed to leave a stronger impression with what it does.

There is a danger in touching on hot-button issues, such as illegal immigration or gay rights, in movies; it can win audiences and speak about the human experience, yes, but it can also result in making things a riddled backwash of typical controversial subtext that doesn’t really say anything one way or the other. Ask yourself that when you consider if perhaps what is incidentally being promoted are stereotypes of the city (i.e. that practically all gays are outspoken flamers with attitudes or that practically all streets in L.A. are filled with cross-dressers, etc.)

When we make a movie about a city based on the special interest groups and loudest social influences from them, we end up with a picture that is too narrow and doesn’t do any one group or subgroup justice. This is the central pitfall when demographics determine content (and not the other way around). Making a movie with the express purpose of showcasing humanity can include all or none of the things mentioned, but doing so requires that what we are given rises above what we already know about human nature. We need to be swallowed up in the world of its story. And that is where we have some trouble.

Let it be known that the performances are rather solid from everyone involved, almost all of whom happen to be brand new names in film, but the movie doesn’t leave enough of a mark for any of these new talents to be taken notice of. Paul Elia (here as “Hassan”) had a part in Exit 33. He comes before us this time as an individual only semi-secure in his manhood. Haley Strode as “Lauren” appeared in Gangster Squad. She comes to us now as the angle-playing roommate of friend and admirer “Jake” (Jus Riddick). These and other respectable-but-segmented talents are to be found in abundance.

What hurts: [early on] some chinsy girl-talk, some misplaced drama, and forced laughter; [later on] the need for more conservative editing was called for in cases where lengthy runtimes and some needless foot chase scenes cause us to lose interest. And then, we’re still left with questions at the conclusion of it all. But these are not overbearing problems. In fact, the longer we watch (not counting the last chapter), we tend to forget about them.

As the film moves in and out of focus on its chapters and characters, feelings range from remotely impressive to silly flirtatious. Only in L.A. was set up to accomplish a lot. Indeed, there was much potential here. In a stoutly acted line-up such as this, only the lack of a unifying story (that should have tied everything together) let it down. Some well-constructed human relationships are one of the reasons to see this film, and most of them are done right, even as its script has it trying to take on too much of everything.

The most touching scene consists of a hot verbal confrontation between a homophobic Arab-American (Paul Elia) and a gay barber (Joe Briggs). The intensely delivered dialog, replete with racial slurs, and the near-fight resulting therefrom were not only entertaining, but made us start to really invest ourselves in the story and the ever-present redeeming value of human beings learning to look past differences in each other; lines were crossed, cultures were dashed, formalities were thrown out, and for the second time in the movie, I really cared about what was happening. Needed more of that.

The attention to detail in Riddick’s and Filios’ work is evident from very early on. Perhaps later efforts will bring out a more honed use of their talents.