One of the major pitfalls of the everything-is-connected ensemble drama is that filmmakers get so caught up in how the various character and plot strands intertwine that they forget to account for why. By the end of Garden Party, Jason Freeland's dismal roundelay of Hollywood outsiders, the five or so major players have all met and all played some role in each other's lives. Then the movie ends, raising the question, "What the hell was that all about?" Freeland constructed the film out of a handful of short stories he'd written, and that's reflected in the narrow, particular journeys of Hollywood's young and lost. But taken together, these stories are a symphony of inconsequentiality, drained of tension and purpose until all that remains is a vague sense of collective ennui.
Best known for her season-three turn as Mischa Barton's conniving little sister on The OC, Willa Holland brings a more genuine babe-in-the-woods quality to her role as an aimless 15-year-old in Hollywood. She wants to make a quick buck without taking off her clothes, but nonetheless immediately disrobes for a shady photographer. Vinessa Shaw plays a savvy real-estate agent who seduces potential clients with her looks and generous homegrown samples of pot to go along with her listings. Shaw's assistant Alex Cendese, a shy, closeted stoner from Nebraska, lusts after Erik Scott Smith, a homeless young musician who mumbles and stumbles his way into potential stardom. Meanwhile, amateur-Internet-porn enthusiast Richard Gunn strikes up a deal with Shaw to retrieve incriminating photographs in exchange for special favors.
There's the tiniest, barest shred of an idea in Garden Party about Hollywood's culture of humiliation and degradation, and how everyone has to subject themselves to it in order to realize their dreams (or more often, not). But Freeland busies himself so much with crocheting all the story threads that he doesn't bother to latch onto a theme that might tie them all together meaningfully. It's a production in search of a movie.