When I was researching this film, I thought this snippet from a review in the New York Post said it best: "A variety of broad comic types drive into a Los Angeles 'Park'. Wackiness ensues." Only I’m not certain wackiness would be quite what I would call it. Perhaps "unmitigated chaos"?
Kurt Voelker's previously most well known film was the saccharine Sweet November, a movie whose only redeeming feature quite frankly was the thirty-or-so seconds of Lauren Graham standing around in a fetching black bra (hey, I never said I was a deep person). For Park, Voelker has switched gears and gone for indie comedy. He’s created an ensemble of completely unlikeable characters and thrown them together in several unlikely scenarios. The one element that ties them all loosely together is that they’ve all driven to a Los Angeles park in the middle of a week day, where they all proceed to act strangely.
There’s April (Dagney Kerr), the poor suicidal woman who is so incompetent she can’t even manage to off herself with any dignity. Then comes Ian (David Fenner) and Krysta (Izabella Miko) the mismatched dog groomers. Ian is the hopeless geek who still lives with his parents who is in love with Krysta, the French slutty bombshell. She’s brought them there so she can rendezvous with her lover Dennis (Billy Baldwin). Krysta and Dennis proceed to get it on in his big, oversized, beloved SUV. Yes, the "perhaps he's overcompensating for something?" jokes flow freely to mind, and Voelker encourages it. Dennis is so enamoured by his car that Krysta seduces him by reading to him from the owner’s manual.
Meanwhile, along comes a mini-van containing four workmates, two men and two women, all of whom seem to have an odd relationship to one another. Nathan (Trent Ford) is the sexy office fop, Meredith (Anne Dudek) is a sarcastic cynic, Sheryl (Melanie Lynskey) is shy and slowly breaking out from her shell, and Babar (Maulik Pancholy) is coming to terms with his sexuality.
But wait, there’s more! Dennis is being stalked by his wronged wife Peggy (Ricki Lake) who enlists the help of her best friend Claire (Cheri Oteri) in an attempt to catch Dennis in flagrante. The sight of him with the French bimbo initially propels her into an absurd act of vengeance, a ramapage that stakes a claim on the vast majority of the middle third of the film.
During this escapade, Claire begins to wonder if her lack of ability to catch a man is because she’s actually a lesbian. They mull over thios for a bit. However, it is actually Peggy who has the real dyke revelation when she realises that she just doesn’t care too much about Dennis after all, and that the woman sitting in the car with her means more to her than Dennis ever has, or could.
All these disparate elements would take a master filmmaker of the Robert Altman ilk to juggle successfully, and as you can probably guess, there are no such filmmakers working on this film. Voelker is not a man who goes in for subtlety. When he wants you to cry, he plays Enya. When he wants you to laugh, he has a crazed housewife whacking the shit out of a long, sleek, SUV with her husband and his french lover trapped inside. This is visual comedy of the broadest type. It’s not a bad ride once you hop on board, but if the characters never really grab you in the first place, you might find it difficult to keep up.
Films with disparate threads and multiple storylines exist to be character-driven pieces. Unfortunately the characters here don’t ever distinguish themselves enough to really carry the storylines they are in. Ricki Lake is probably the best of the bunch, with several nuances to her characterisation you might not expect. Well-known names like Oteri, Lynskey and Baldwin are wasted here, being too whiny, too introverted and too bombastic respectively to really enjoy watching.
My advice? Ditch the entire storyline in the minivan, make the main narrative thrust a better conceived version of the vengeful wife plot, and have the utterly implausible romance between the dog-groomer guy and suicidal lady as the sidekick comic relief. Give these character actors some room to manoevre and you might actually have yourself a worthwhile, quirky little movie.
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