Rated: NOT RATED (but would be an “R” equivalent)
Film Length: 88 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.78:1)
Subtitles: English & Spanish
The Film - 3 out of 5
“Come with a dream, leave with a story.”
So this was my plan this past Saturday… I have hundreds of dollars in spare change that had been piling up in jars around my office. The direct to video / video premiere Garden Party had arrived a few days before and I knew I had to watch it to submit my HTF review. With most DTV movies I had low expectations and my plan was to count and roll my change and watch the movie at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, I try to watch movies I review twice (once for the story, the other to concentrate on picture and sound quality), however, knowing Lionsgate cranks out probably twenty plus DTV releases in any given month and a cast I didn't initially recognize, I just didn’t expect much from this film. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Fifteen minutes into the movie, I was pulled into the story and stopped counting my change. I was pleasantly surprised… I liked Garden Party.
Garden Party follows the stories of six people as they navigate life in modern day Los Angeles. Their lives intertwine with one another and, well, things happen. The two stories I found most interesting were fifteen-year-old April (Willa Holland, who played Mischa Barton’s little sister on “The O.C.”) left on her own while her mother is out in Vegas and runs away from home to avoid her perverted step-father and Sammy (Erik Smith, A Walk to Remember), a homeless aspiring musician (who reminded me of American Idol’s 2008 runner up, David Archulleta). Along the way we meet Sally (Vinessa Shaw, 3:10 to Yuma), a sexy real estate agent and pot dealer with a past, her pot smoking executive assistant Nathan (Alexander Cendese, You Belong to Me), who is trying to come to terms with his sexuality, a sex addict named Todd (Richard Gunn, The Astronaut Farmer) who has an obsession with Sally after seeing photos of her posted on the internet that were taken ten years ago by Davy (Christopher Allport, Jack Frost 1 & 2), an aging rival real estate agent who has some dark sexual issues of his own. And although he only pops up a couple of times, Ross Patterson (7-10 Split) as the music label talent scout trying to sign Sammy, brings some great comic relief and steals every scene he’s in.
Written and directed by Jason Freeland (Brown’s Requiem), who was obviously inspired by the legendary Robert Altman (and probably Paul Thomas Anderson), carefully weaves in and out of each of the character’s stories bringing the movie to a satisfying conclusion.
The Video – 3 ½ out of 5
Lionsgate did a nice transfer of the film. Shot on Super 16 and then transferred to HD, the picture has a nice film look to it with a relatively clean, crisp, sharp picture and very little edge enhancement. The LA night scenes are lusciously shot with some deep blacks and decent shadow detail. On occasion, I saw a little noise in the image in the darker shots, however it did not distract from the overall experience. My guess, had this been a HD BD transfer, the image would have been perfect, however given the limitations of 480p, kicked up to HD and no Blu-Ray on the horizon, it’s a pretty nice presentation.
The Audio / Sound – 2 ½ out of 5
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio was limited, mostly due to the fact that this is a talking heads movie. The dialogue was free and clear of distortion and surround activity with the soundtrack was minimal, with the center channel handling most of the work. The most use of the rear channels and LFE’s were during the scenes with Sammy’s band and occasional background noise. It’s not that it wasn’t any good; it’s just that there wasn’t really much in the movie to give my surround sound a real workout.
The Extra's - 0 out of 5
Nothing. I would have at least liked a commentary from Freeland, but alas, it was not to be.
I’m happy to say that Garden Party deserves a look (and your undivided attention). It’s an enjoyable character study that’s absolutely worth 90 minutes of your time. Stick it in your rental queue at Netflix and give it shot. The next time Jason Freeland writes and directs another movie, I’ll be sure to give up some of my spare change.
Overall Score – 3 ½ out of 5
Release Date: November 18, 2008
My DVD Collection: DVD Profiler, by Invelos Software, Inc.