Combustible Celluloid
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With: Vinessa Shaw, Willa Holland, Alexander Cendese, Richard Gunn, Erik Scott Smith, Patrick Fischler, Christopher Allport
Written by: Jason Freeland
Directed by: Jason Freeland
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 89
Date: 05/30/2008

Garden Party (2008)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Got to Please Yourself

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jason Freeland's Garden Party is a bit like Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993), taking a look at a cross-section of Los Angeles characters, though it runs less than half the length and, conversely, half the depth. The film feels a bit removed, unwilling or unable to muster the courage to party crash, to really engage its characters. April (Willa Holland) is a beautiful 15 year-old who tries to escape from her lascivious stepfather by acquiring a fake ID and posing for nude internet photos for cash. Sally St. Clair (Vinessa Shaw, from Eyes Wide Shut) is a successful, controlling and backstabbing realtor who keeps a greenhouse full of prime pot that she uses to close deals. Her sexually confused, pot-smoking assistant Nathan (Alexander Cendese) is at her beck and call 24/7. Todd (Richard Gunn) is an independently wealthy artist who lives in the house he grew up in. He's obsessed with Sally, whose old, nude photos he has admired on the Internet. And Sammy (Erik Scott Smith) is a fresh-off-the-bus singer/songwriter who more or less blows with the tide. He never once makes a decision for himself, and by the end of the movie has signed the glittering prize record deal. Sammy doesn't quite fit in the story; his instant success and happy closure doesn't mesh with the other lost, searching characters, and he only casually crosses paths with them. The movie, I think, wants to peer into some titillating Southern California underbelly of sex and porn, showing only a hint of sex or nudity. The film itself has the same wandering quality, moving from the depths of a stinky apartment in a "sketch" neighborhood with noisy neighbors, to the luxury of a quiet patio, lit up at night by diffused colored lights and accompanied by the soft ripple of a swimming pool. But if people come and go in Los Angeles, the film reasons, then sex is a permanent resident. Too bad Garden Party doesn't have the sense of purpose to stop wandering and searching and instead embrace the sheer desire that causes all this trouble.

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