They say you’re supposed to write what you know. The only problem with this system is that sometimes the only things you know are the same things everyone else knows, and so why bother?
I sense that this is the case with Jason Freeland, who wrote and directed “Garden Party.” I would guess that either he moved to Los Angeles with big dreams, the way so many other people do, or else he is a native who has seen a steady parade of Big Dreamers come and go. In any case, while “Garden Party” may indeed be an example of writing what you know, it has nothing to say. The characters aren’t interesting, and the stories toggle between tawdry and ridiculous. There’s nothing about the film worthy of outright disdain or disgust, but there’s not much worthy or praise, either. It’s a big fat “meh.”
At the center is Sally St. Clair (Vinessa Shaw), an attractive Realtor whose business is booming in large part because whenever she delivers new information on properties to clients, she also includes a bag of marijuana. Most of the leg work is actually done by her assistant, Nathan (Alexander Cendese), a Midwestern kid who chased his dreams to L.A. and is now the weed delivery boy for a sultry Realtor.
One night Sally meets Todd (Richard Gunn), an artist whose girlfriend doesn’t understand him. Sally and Toddy have a lot of perfectly innocuous conversations that are made, through their tone of voice and through the film’s musical score, to sound dirty.
Meanwhile, there is a teenage girl named April (Willa Holland) who moves out of the house because her pervy stepfather is always ogling her. We learn this when April takes a shower with the bathroom door open, then towels off and gets dressed with the bathroom door open, then gets very angry when she notices her stepfather is watching her through the bathroom door, which is open. I’m not saying he ought to be looking at her, but if your stepdad was often ill-behaved in this manner, wouldn’t you make a point of closing the door when you took a shower? I’m just sayin’.
Anyway, April leaves home and falls in with some lesbians. She also meets a young guy named Sammy (Erik Smith) who is a singer/songwriter and has just moved to town with nothing more than a guitar and some dreams. He’s been hanging out with Nathan, the Realtor’s assistant/weed delivery guy, who might be kind of gay and might have a thing for Sammy.
Finally, there’s a sleazy man who takes nude photographs of people and puts them on the Internet. He pays his models good money, though. I once heard a comedian joke about how if you move to L.A. without already knowing people and having a job lined up, within four days you’ll be doing porn. It’s funny because it’s true.
All of these stories have the potential to be interesting. But instead, they’ve been wound together into one of those “strangers affecting each other’s lives” things, so none of them get the care and handling they need. It doesn’t help that the performances are uniformly bland and unremarkable, and that the dialogue has howlers like this: “Everything around here is so dark, and I’m just looking for some light.”
There’s actually plenty of light in the film (and plenty of lighting up, too — everyone smokes weed all the time), and that’s part of the problem. Even the serious elements are treated superficially. There’s no depth or weight to anything. But then again, maybe that’s an accurate depiction of L.A. after all.
C (1 hr., 29 min.; )