D: Kai Alexander / 89m
Cast: Alma S. Grey, Jack Morocco, Caroline Heinle, Louis Dezseran, Nathan Douglas, Khelsy Raymond, Marlyse Londe, Geoffrey Kennedy, Amanda S. Hall
For Jenni (Grey), life isn’t something that she feels entirely comfortable with. She’s shy, has a somewhat childish attitude to her work in a plant nursery (she tells awful jokes to the plants), lives with a housemate (Heinle) who thinks she’s weird, and has a crush on a fellow nursery worker (Hall) that she’s too insecure to act on. When circumstances result in her losing both her home and her job, Jenni decides that suicide is her only remaining option. She goes to the park to hang herself but is stopped from doing so by Sam (Morocco), a free spirit who gets Jenni to open up about herself. Jenni tells Sam about her father, who she hasn’t seen since she was six years old. All she has is an old photo of him outside the house they used to live in in Los Angeles. Sam persuades Jenni to try and find him, and they travel to L.A. There, a number of distractions hold up their search, and their new-found friendship is put to the test…
A comical quasi-road movie that features a brace of enjoyable performances from its leads, Broken Gardenias is a good-natured comedy drama that doesn’t provide viewers with anything out of the ordinary, and which isn’t trying to be too profound either. It’s an indie movie with a surplus of charm that is in service to a script (by Grey) that sets out its stall very early on. It’s about acceptance, and on various levels. Jenni is afraid of taking chances, so travelling to L.A. is a big deal for her, especially as she has no idea if tracking down her father will be successful, or provide her with some, or all – or nothing – of the answers she’s looking for. Sam has a more positive outlook, but that’s because she’s compensating for Jenni’s lack of confidence, and her own nature allows her to accept Jenni’s uncertainty without necssarily supporting it. For once, the script isn’t concerned with whether or not both women learn from each other and grow as individuals accordingly, but with the singular journey that Jenni takes in gaining the confidence that has eluded her for so long. There’ll be tears, there’ll be laughs, and there’ll be unexpected sexual encounters, but above all, there’ll be emotional, cathartic outbursts.
Grey and Morocco play off and against each other with considerable skill, which is beneficial on those occasions when Grey’s script wanders off course (an encounter with a stoner lady who gives Jenni and Sam a lift), or scenes that drag on without adding anything to the narrative. There’s also a risible sub-plot involving Jenni’s housemate – and her boyfriend – who are visiting L.A. at the same time, a set up that has a less than satisfying, and very contrived resolution. With this in mind, though, Broken Gardenias has much more to offer, from the aforementioned performances, Alexander’s relaxed yet en point direction, some colourful L.A. locations, Meena Singh’s bright and airy cinematography, and a winsome, whimsical score by Tiffanie Lanmon. It’s very much a movie that wears its lesbian laurels on its sleeve, but it’s also a story that could be just as enjoyable and just as relevant if both Jenni and Sam were straight (though the romantic aspects might need adjusting). In the end, Grey has fashioned a knowing script that doesn’t take either Jenni or Sam for granted, and makes their growing relationship – with all its stumbles and strides – something to cherish, and relish, for its easy simplicity.
Rating: 7/10 – a small triumph of LGBTQ+ movie making, Broken Gardenias overcomes a handful of narrative hiccups to provide an engaging and entertaining look at one woman’s journey to gaining self-confidence and self-reliance; Grey and Morocco are an attractive pairing, there’s a good mix of drama and comedy, and it’s all set against a familiar indie backdrop that helps anchor some of the more wayward aspects of the script.