What is it about Los Angeles that makes it prone to multicharacter, excess-minded ensembles and devoted tributes to itself disguised as critiques? Well, as we learned from Paul Haggis’s ethnography-as-racial-burlesque Crash, everyone in that city just sort of, well, crashes into each other–presumptively it’s strictly a car thing, because I’ve had my share of sidewalk collisions while walking on New York’s even more crowded streets. Perhaps the city’s denizens are united by a certain, unspoken shared misery, eventually exacerbated or cleansed by some greater destructive force, as in Short Cuts and Magnolia. Or is it that everyone oozes an icky superficiality that doubles as a mighty adhesive, connecting disparate people stuck in ignoble circumstances, as in Happy Endings or Boogie Nights?
Whatever the reason, director Jason Freeland feels the need to try his hand at this subgenre, tackling, in only his second feature, a sprawling study of a pack of tangentially related young people trying to make it in Los Angeles, all either exploiters or the exploited. The trick of many of these movies it that their dovetailing narratives and multiple characters give off the impression that the director is ambitious, but more often they’re anything but, haphazardly jamming together half-formed tidbits of stories like ill-fitting jigsaw pieces. This is not to say that fleeting moments cannot add up to satisfying narratives – each of the marvelous single-take segments of Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives, for instance, felt like fully achieved short fictions. In Freeland’s case, one might wish he would venture at perfecting a single coherent narrative before trying to weave together several. Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of Garden Party.