Jason Freeland's Garden Party plays 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 movie also reminded me a little of that early scene in Billy Wilder's Sabrina (1954), wherein the titular heroine secretly watches a swank Los Angeles party from a safe distance, imagining what it must be like to be there. Likewise, sophomore writer/director Freeland (Brown's Requiem) doesn't quite feel like the host of this particular "garden party," but rather like the party's Sabrina, secretly spying from the sidelines. The film feels a bit removed, unwilling or unable to muster the courage to party crash, to really engage its characters.
Garden Party starts with April (Willa Holland), a beautiful 15 year-old with an Avril Lavigne look, who tries to escape from her lascivious stepfather by acquiring a fake ID and posing for nude internet photos for cash. Then we meet Sally St. Clair (Vinessa Shaw, who played the prostitute "Domino" in Eyes Wide Shut), a successful, controlling and backstabbing realtor. She keeps a greenhouse full of prime pot that she uses to close deals, and her assistant Nathan (Alexander Cendese) is at her beck and call 24/7. Nathan drives her car, stays in her house and looks after her garden. He smokes too much pot, is confused about his sexuality and seems to have forgotten why he came to the City of Angels in the first place. 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. By chance he meets her in a parking lot and endears himself to her by removing gum from her expensive shoe.