'Battle: Los Angeles': The West Coast Is Toast, Yet Again

Why is L.A. always getting blown up in the movies, while New York gets to host some of the greatest love stories of all time?

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Columbia Pictures


This weekend it will happen for what feels like the hundredth time: The left coast will again be "toast." A platoon of Marines will take on alien invaders in the new film, Battle: Los Angeles. Having watched my city blow up again and again in the trailers, I got to thinking: Why is it that L.A. looks best when it's hosting an apocalypse and is seldom the backdrop for romance? With so many love stories set in Manhattan, and so few in Southern California, filmmakers appear to be sending a message: New York is the place to fall in love, but L.A. is the place to die.

New York City is forever identified with some of the greatest film romances of all time. There's An Affair to Remember, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Sabrina, The Apartment, Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally, Moonstruck, Working Girl, and the ending of Sleepless in Seattle (which is, of course, an homage to An Affair to Remember).

So while East Coast characters are having their "meet cute" on the streets of New York, what's happening to their L.A. counterparts? I'll tell you—racists are engaging in overwrought dialogue with minorities (Crash), gang members are killing each other (Boyz N the Hood), terrorists are taking hostages (Die Hard), cyborgs from the future are shooting at Sarah Connor (Terminator), volcanoes are erupting (Volcano), Autobots and Decepticons are tearing up the streets (Transformers), and aliens are invading (Skyline and now Battle: Los Angeles).

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Don't get me wrong, I secretly rejoice when I see my city getting destroyed. With its Sig Alerts, celebutantes, and natural disasters that define our seasons, there's a lot to despise. The 1997 picture Volcano was set in my neighborhood and I loved watching it being dissolved by fiery lava. It's sort of cathartic. Take that, Beverly Center. Good riddance, Miracle Mile.

In contrast, no one wants to see the beloved New York cityscape succumb to aliens or a giant lizard. But who cares if the 405 crumbles to the ground? And given the famously poor design of the Hollywood and Highland shopping complex (home to the Kodak Theater where the Oscars are held), aliens stomping on it would be like free demolition—we can start over and build a shopping mall that doesn't seem like it was modeled after the hedge maze from The Shining.

So what is it that makes New York such a wonderful backdrop for romance? I have my theories. For one, romantic comedies are primarily about dialogue. And where does great dialogue take place? While people are in parks, or walking ... not stuck in traffic. What's believable about people falling in love dodging Nicole Richie going the wrong way on the freeway?

Also, most romantic comedies—at least the formulaic ones—have the equivalent of what Nora Ephron refers to as "the running scene," when the leading man or woman finally realizes they're in love and must race to tell their partner how they feel. In L.A., it's hard to stage this—or even a driving scene—because no one who's ever been here would buy that the leading man or woman could actually get anywhere in a hurry.

When people do fall in love in L.A., the city itself is parodied for just how hard it is to fall in love with a real person, as depicted in L.A. Story, starring Steve Martin. Or the characters put sex before love. The recently released No Strings Attached is about a couple that starts off as sex buddies and ends up in love.

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Patricia Beauchamp is a screenwriter in Los Angeles.

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