Judge David Johnson used to throw garden parties in his backyard and all the beautiful people were there. He was eight at the time.
Come with a dream. Leave with a story.
The lives of five strangers intersect in Hollywood. Each has a dream of what they want out of the city, but they soon discover the city's bat-@#$% crazy.
Facts of the Case
The point person for our story is April (Willa Holland), a 15-year-old expatriate from her home, looking for a fresh start in Hollywood, preferably something that doesn't involve full-frontal nudity. As she bounces around, she comes into contact with a variety of characters, including Sally St. Clair (Vinessa Shaw), a notorious realtor with a sexy past, a porno addict and fetishist, a sexually confused Nebraska transplant and wannabe dancer and a fresh-off-the-bus and homeless musician.
As an installment in the Multiple Characters and Storylines That Eventually Intersect By the Movie's End genre, Garden Party turns out to be an entertaining way to spend 88 minutes. There may not be any big reveals or flashy denouements or neck-snapping twists that are typically hallmarks of multi-threaded films of this nature, but the thing hums along at a nice clip and ties up each story in a satisfactory manner.
It's the performances that propel the film. While the individual storylines aren't ultra-compelling, the characters that inhabit them—boosted by the actors behind the roles—keep the energy at a high level. April runs point and though her plot is arguably the least engaging, the world of Garden Party pretty much revolves around her so up or down she's shouldering most of the responsibility for keeping the flick moving. She does. Holland plays April low-key, but her character is incisive when the script calls for it and elicits helpful exposition and development from the other characters when she interacts with them. It's an understated performance, but Holland brings a tangible magnetism to the small screen. Vinessa Shaw's Sally St. Clair is the second major cog in the gears of the story, and she's all Alpha female. Sally has a lot going on and her tendrils reach deep into the lives of everyone in her orbit. Her story, where she teams with the porn addict to hunt down the possessor of some old nude photos that's been a thorn in her side for years, makes for the most watchable stuff. The musician has a more straight-arrow tale of Hollywood success and benefits from having a hilarious talent manager as a supporting character and Sexually Confused Dancer Boy is likable, even if his story isn't terribly interesting.
What did I learn from all of this? That Hollywood's a pretty @#$%-ed up place and I'm grateful to live in the New Hampshire sticks. Truth is, though, Garden Party could have been a lot darker, and at times it seemed like the story was headed down some edgy alleys (a sleazy photographer who sells nude pictures plays a central role in the narrative), but when the end credits rolled, I left with a smidgen of hope for these folks. There aren't really any nihilistic endings, which I thought for sure were on the menu. The result: a movie that entertains, flashes some grit, but leaves on a high note.
The DVD is lean, but as a technical presentation, it's a winner. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is attractive and sports the variety of color schemes you would expect in such an eclectic venue as Hollywood. A 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix pushes the sound. No extras is a bummer.
Garden Party is worth a look for fans of character-driven noir-lite.
Not guilty. Party on.
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