LAist DVD Review: Garden Party
Los Angeles survives on its image, be it through tourism or the entertainment industry or the weather. Lots of people come here for lots of reasons; some stay, others move on. But the truth is, for anyone with family in a small town somewhere else, the reality of Los Angeles, day in and day out, is usually much more mundane. We all have to go to work, or to eat, or to pick up the kids from any number of unknown locations. There is a grind in LA that falls well below the radar once you leave the left coast. And it almost always slips by the movie industry.
Not everyone who enters Los Angeles proper is the homeless heartthrob with a voice like an angel, or the ruddy real estate agent with a penchant for pervery. But that doesn't stop the film industry from trying to make us believe it. Sometimes, the delusion works better than others. We can watch Collateral take on the darkness of downtown over and over again, or (depending on your take of the film) enjoy the interweaving plotlines of 2004's Crash. These are films that showcase the bigger stories on the big screen, without getting too self-involved or overrun with the clichés that feel the entertainment machine.
Unfortunately, Garden Party does not fall into this same category. While trying to play much more like Crash than Collateral, the five concurrent storylines in Garden Party fail to evoke the kind of hard-hitting questions and devastating artistry that can easily be found elsewhere. At points it dives headfirst into that self-absorbed pit that should almost always be avoided (for caveats, see Juno), and emerging to come off like an 88-minute make out session with the person you were in 9th grade. Sure, all the parts are there, but it's mostly just fumbling in the dark, and emerging to try to retell a story that didn't quite happen.
The DVD for Garden Party case lists the five main characters as: The Dreamer, The Musician, The Connection, The Dancer, and The Sex Addict. However, none of the titles comes anywhere close to correctly identifying the true personalities we see on screen. The dreamer is April, played by the cute-as-a-button Willa Holland. The problem is, if she has dreams we certainly don't find them out; more often than not she's just trying to be cool and keep an angsty look on her face. The Dancer? Be prepared to wait through 75% of the movie before finding out he used to want to be a dancer, followed by one awkward dance scene that ends in a bathroom stall. The Sex Addict hasn't slept with his girlfriend in over six months, and never changes his emotion. Ever. The others follow this unfortunate pattern as well, making the connections they encounter with each other absolutely meaningless. Writer/director Jason Freeland has given no drive or compassion or honesty to any of the characters, leaving the script as lifeless as the paper it was penned on.
The ultimate shame is, you really want to believe in these 'random connections become the plot' films, like Lock Stock or...again...Crash. But Garden Party is not these films, due in large part to weak acting and even weaker writing. Without a reliable and open connection, the web that is getting spun falls to the ground, and this is certainly the case here. What Garden Party has in abundance is possibility. But what it lacks is a strong story or reliable acting, making what's left, and the portrait it paints of Los Angeles, just another tired cliche.
Garden Party. Photo courtesy Lionsgate.