Park refers to the place you go to for a picnic, not the thing you do with your car, but given how it follows so eagerly in the path of Paul Haggis’s Crash, the film may as well have opted for the vehicular metaphor. Here, the namby-pamby life lessons accrued over the course of a few days across Los Angeles have been condensed into the mind-numbing span of a single lunch hour in a secluded L.A. park, where 10 individuals find themselves brought together for a series of events that can be classified as weird and weirder. April (Dagney Kerr) wants to kill herself, only to find that she’s purchased blanks instead of actual bullets for her pistol. Meredith (Anne Dudek) and Sheryl (Melanie Lynskey) have accompanied their co-workers Babar (Maulik Pancholy) and Nathan (Trent Ford) on a lunch break, suspecting them to be a gay couple only to learn they’re dedicated nudists. And Ian (David Fenner) hopes to profess his love for the sexy Krysta (Izabella Miko), only to find Krysta has made a date for some kinky roundelay with Dennis (William Baldwin), whose wife Peggy (Ricki Lake) has come to confirm her suspicions regarding his infidelity, and whose friend Claire (Cheri Oteri) secretly wants to be more than friends. Man, have we gone downhill since Short Cuts.
Of course, this is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with such a scenario in a film; after all, Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson (among many others) have pulled off character-laden canvases that read even more ridiculous on paper than the one described above. What makes Park so intolerable, however, is its superficial and whimsy-deprived quirk, the kind of self-justifying nonsense that may work as stylistic filler but adds nothing of substance whatsoever to the rest of the proceedings. It’s a cinematic nightmare that’s only compounded by the condescending way in which these characters are pigeonholed into broad stereotypes of the worst imaginable order and with the kind of sterile efficiency one expects to learn about at a screenwriting seminar.
Life’s a mess of oft-funny tragedies but Park comes closer to apathy than empathy with its intended laughs, from April’s pathetic attempts at suicide to Ian’s donning of a Sideshow Bob-style wig in hopes of increasing his sex appeal to a pair of vandals donning masks of Regis Philbin and John Kerry. Nugget-sized, quotable virtues complement the film’s lackadaisical evocations of suppressed identity: nudists fronting their own insecurities, dissatisfied wives as oblivious lesbians, adulterous husbands compensating for their shortcomings. Unsurprisingly, it is the film’s worst scene—in which Dennis finds himself drenched in an Exorcist-style volley of green-tinged vomit—that proves to be its most encapsulating.