Movie Review – Garden Party (2008)
by HELEN GEIB
It seems unsporting to criticize a low-budget independent film for its technical deficiencies or the variable quality of its performances. Therefore, I will concentrate my criticisms of Garden Party on its script. Mirroring the lives of its unpleasant characters, Garden Party is a protracted exercise in banal self-absorption.
The film is structured like a slice-of-life comedy of the human condition. It is set in ordinary parts of Los Angeles and follows a small group of “ordinary” people for a week or so. Two of the characters know each other when the movie starts. The rest are brought together by a series of highly improbable coincidences. The unlikelihood of the many meetings that drive the plot is one example of the way the film’s superficial verisimilitude is at odds with its substantive unreality.
Another example is the characterization. Case in point, Sammy. Sammy is a young man who arrives in Los Angeles penniless, friendless, and homeless. He is cute, a talented singer, and a songwriter prodigy. He joins a garage band. His first gig is at a house party in some rich area where he is scouted by a manager and acquires a patron in the person of an ultra-rich, beautiful, teenage girl who has the hots for Sammy and is enraptured by his talent. He makes a lot of money acting as middle-man in a one-time marijuana buy and is signed by a music label. All of this in a week.
Sammy is pure fantasy. Each of the other characters is a mixture, in varying proportions, of fantasy, stereotype, and cipher. The other principals are Sally, a real estate agent whose nude pictures are posted on an internet sex site courtesy of an old boyfriend and who cultivates marijuana to package as a freebie with her listings; Nathan, middle America boy who’s lost his moorings in big bad LA and is usually stoned; Todd, a sleazy, independently wealthy painter addicted to internet porn; and April, a teenager who leaves home to escape her step-father’s leering gaze and promptly resorts to prostitution and pornography to score a fake id and some quick cash.
All of their stories are compromised by a fundamental implausibility. The characterization has neither realism nor depth, yet carries the burden of embodying a commentary on modern life behind the glitter and glamor of the entertainment capital of the world. The character of Sally the hot babe house seller is nothing but a medium for the film’s message that Los Angeles is a city built on real estate and commercial sex.
The final scene shows Sally’s old boyfriend, middle-aged lech and (what else?) real estate agent, picking up a teenage girl at a bus stop. The location is chosen to provide a picture postcard view of the Hollywood sign in the distance. The hackneyed punch line is a fitting conclusion to Garden Party.