A dusty stretch of Los Angeles chaparral becomes an ideal site for sex, attempted suicide, vehicular destruction and romantic fulfillment in the enjoyably rude but uneven ensemble comedy “Park.” Tracking the comic collisions of 10 visitors over the course of one fateful afternoon, scribe-director Kurt Voelker’s agreeably shaggy first feature isn’t always the laugh riot it sets itself up to be, but the juicy cast and impressive marshaling of low-budget resources should keep “Park” parked on festival radars — pic next screens in July at L.A.’s Outfest — while its mainstream appeal should be obvious to all but the dimmest distribs.
Unspooling in one of the few places in L.A. that “hasn’t been turned into a strip mall, a gay community or a fast-food restaurant,” story builds a daisy-chain of coincidences and connections among a handful of Angelenos — and, crucially, their automobiles — during one very strange and very long lunch hour.
The first visitor is a weepy redhead named April (Dagney Kerr), who has come to the park to kill herself — and whose numerous failed attempts to do so are hilariously portrayed as having a worsening effect on her self-esteem. Spying a pet-grooming van parked nearby, April seeks assistance from its driver, kindly dog shampooer Ian (David Fenner), who is smitten with his co-worker, scornful foreign beauty Krysta (Polish-born thesp Izabella Miko).
Krysta, meanwhile, has arranged a hot-and-heavy tryst with sleazy attorney Dennis (William Baldwin), who turns up in a luxury SUV, unaware that his wife Peggy (Ricki Lake) and her friend Claire (Cheri Oteri) are spying on him from their own vehicle.
In a nearby van, New Age-y hunk Nathan (Trent Ford) and second banana Babar (Maulik Pancholy) try to convince their co-workers Meredith (Anne Dudek) and Sheryl (Melanie Lynskey) to adopt their nudist lifestyle. “Clothes perpetuate shame,” says Nathan, though his words lose some of their punch given pic’s own discreet attitude toward below-the-waist nudity.
Favoring a grainy, red-tinted palette that points up the shrub-strewn desolation of the setting, cinematographer Christophe Lanzenberg chooses a functional shooting style for the dialogue-driven comedy, framing the actors in two-shot and often filming them through their car windshields.
Editors Anita Brandt Burgoyne and Paul Warschilka cut fluently among the five vehicles, their transitions occasionally serving as effective punchlines. Frequently, however, the excessive back-and-forth has the effect of belaboring the action, especially since the individual story arcs develop in surprisingly predictable ways.
Inevitably, some strands are more compelling than others. The amateur nudist colony — structurally, the least integrated with the other four subplots — wears out its welcome with excessive talk and the tiresome revelation of unrequited attractions among certain members of the group.
And Voelker’s script can’t resist parceling out little nuggets of romantic redemption for all the characters, hinting at a soft heart (or perhaps a soft head) beneath the surface that is ultimately antithetical to the style of sharp, merciless wit the pic is after.
While there’s little interaction among the ensemble as a whole, Voelker extracts some vivid comic turns. Baldwin deserves some sort of good-sport award for wearing seatless underpants for most of the film’s duration, and as the group’s most abusive and abused character, his comeuppance occasions some impressively noisy displays of temper.
Lake and Oteri, both more toned-down than their respective past personas might suggest, establish an engaging rapport as girlfriends disenchanted with their love lives. Best of all is Kerr, who manages to make April sympathetic rather than pathetic and, by the end, positively radiant in her self-loathing.