Not Yet Rated

This latest out of L.A.’s struggling “What were they thinking?” indie factory is no garden party or picnic. It’s a fatally fractured, disconnected mosaic of unappealing, marginal Hollywood types haphazardly interconnecting.

Filmmaker Jason Freeland apparently drew upon a number of short stories he wrote to fashion his script. He applies Web porn, marijuana and cover-band music for much of his connective tissue. Garden Party amounts to a bunch of pieces—narrative shards rather than developed scenes—to bring a motley batch of Angelinos into one another’s dreary lives. Freeland’s narrative strategy might best be described as movie-manufactured serendipity.

The eponymous garden is the lush marijuana patch behind one of the homes owned by killer realtor and avid pothead Sally (Vinessa Shaw), a blonde bombshell who shellshocks the assistants she abuses. Others floating around the film’s metaphorical weedy garden are 15-year-old April (Willa Holland, doing her Evan Rachel Wood best), a wild child hoping to land a gig that won’t require her to disrobe; teen rocker Sammy (Erik Scott Smith), whose talent and cute looks get him temporary shelter, gigs, and the attention of a manic manager; Nathan (Alex Cendese), Sally’s maybe-not-so-straight-out-of-Nebraska real estate assistant, whose eyes would be starry if they weren’t so pot-blurry; Todd (Richard Gunn), a bored, stinking-rich artist hooked on Web porn and, especially, nude pictures of Sally from her hidden past; Davey (Christopher Allport), Sally’s dirty-old-man ex who hustles chicks of any age and hoards X-rated pictures; and Carlos (Jeff Newman), a slobby stoner whose smoky scenes beg for the return of Smell-O-Vision. Also getting too much screen time is Anthony (Patrick Fischler), the porn photographer behind so much snapping.

The press notes allow that a “garden party story” refers to one “about the most awkward, or outrageous, or humbling moment that someone experiences in an effort to get ahead or just get by, while waiting for fame and fortune in L.A.” But the film’s one-dimensional characters (wrecked potheads, Web-porn addicts, Web-porn luminaries, underage Web-porn wannabes, Web-porn makers, bitches, hustlers, closet cases, etc.) are hardly defined beyond their various flaws and vices. “Character development” is an oxymoron here.

Even structure in Garden Party is lazy and uninspired. Characters and plot snippets are thrown together like splattered paint. Even the arguably highest-profile protags—April and Sally—finally meet unimaginatively when they step up at the same time to the same coffee-shop counter.

At least the performances are watchable and Ricky Nelson fans get renditions of “Travelin’ Man” and, yes, “Garden Party” on the soundtrack.