Actor-turned-director Nadia Litz buries The People Garden right from the start. Her worst rookie move involves a protagonist displaying no history, no special talents, no personality, and, therefore, no reason for us to care what happens to her.
Some intrigue is built into the angular facial planes of Dree Hemingway (Ernest’s great-granddaughter), but this is dispelled as soon as those vocal-fry squeaks come out of her mouth, while she’s uttering inanities as the inexplicably named Sweetpea. She has travelled to Japan to see the musician boyfriend (Quebec’s François Arnaud), glimpsed in short bookending scenes. Sweetpea’s there to break up with him—really?—but he’s missing from his own music-video shoot, so there’s little for her to do but wander in the woods where he was about to shoot.
Who knows why an artist would fly to Asia to make a video in a generic forest, a notion borne out by filming most of this on Vancouver Island. Cinematographer Catherine Lutes does exploit this classically low-budgeted Canadian location with some handsome widescreen compositions. But Litz’s Jarmusch-lite mood piece is hampered by weird sound issues further obscuring the stiff, staccato delivery of the actors, some of whom appear to be dubbed at times.
James Le Gros brings needed humour, and a wavering accent, to the putative vid director, and Pamela Anderson does what she can as the star of the thing that will never get made. Vancouver’s Jai West is okay as the youngest of a Japanese crew likewise found in a garden more random than mysterious.
The movie’s a very long 82 minutes, but would be a lot shorter without the lingering cigarette shots. Well, the actors needed something to do while staring into the middle distance. If only the audience was so lucky.