Alan Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A. is a multiplot film about sad and lonely people who are longing for intimacy. The main protagonist and supporting characters all feel empty inside. They drink and have sex to fill the void, but happiness eludes them. “Welcome” shows us two ways to be happy: 1) by doing something meaningful and 2) having a relationship based on love and commitment.
The main protagonist, Carroll Barber (Keith Carradine), a songwriter, is unsatisfied with his life. He has a strained relationship with his father, Carl (Denver Pyle), and often drinks to numb his pain. In one scene, he turns to his empty liquor bottle and says, “I’m out.” Alcohol can’t fill the void in Carroll’s heart.
Carroll tries to find happiness by having sex with multiple women. Women are attracted to Carroll because he is self-assured and doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. But this is just a face he wears. Inside, he is just as lonely as the women he sleeps with. Carroll isn’t “in love” with the women he has sex with, and, consequently, he isn’t happy.
Carroll and his father are both unwilling to commit to one woman. Nona Bruce (Lauren Hutton) is in a relationship with Carl, but she isn’t happy. She tells Carroll that his father is “messing around.” However, Nona knows what will make her happy. At the recording studio, she asks Carroll if he’s ready to make a commitment, and he replies, “Maybe.” In the following scene, Nona and Carroll are sitting in his car, and she is in tears. He isn’t willing to make a commitment to her either.
Carroll and the other characters have uncommitted sexual relationships, but there is something missing in these relationships that will make them happy. After they have sex, they are only more aware of how unhappy they are. Having an affair or a one-night stand is a distraction from the emptiness they feel inside.
Carroll tries to have an affair with Karen Hood (Geraldine Chaplin). In the climax of the film, he doesn’t have sex with her, and she reconciles with her husband. Seeing her joy, Carroll is happy for the first time. Karen has found the path to happiness: a relationship based on love and commitment.
Carl tried to make Carroll happy by hiring Eric Wood (Richard Baskin) to record an album based on Carroll’s lyrics. However, after recording several songs, Eric doesn’t finish the album because he doesn’t like the lyrics. Carl’s attempt to make his son happy has failed, but Carroll doesn’t need Eric to be fulfilled.
The film ends with Carroll in the recording studio, singing one of his own songs. Although he has been rejected by a famous musician, he finds joy in making his own music. By taking control of his life, and doing something meaningful, he finds the path to happiness.