Written and Directed by Sally Potter
Run Time: 1h 11min
Genre: Comedy, Drama
By: Shari K. Green
3 ½ Frames out of 5
We start this cunning, noble achievement that writer/director Sally Potter (Orlando, The Tango Lesson) has presented us with, by waiting for a closed door to open as if we’re the ones about to be allowed entrance. Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) opens the door but instead of greeting us with a smile, we are met with a gun to the face. Color me intrigued. That’s quite an arresting way to start the film. Potter wanted us immediately captivated and achieves this goal with the violent gesture which is a shrewd move for any director to make. Now that she has us hooked, she jettison’s us to an earlier point in the evening, before people show up for a celebratory dinner at the apartment she shares with her husband Bill (Timothy Spall). Bill mumbles to himself in the living room as if almost in a fugue state of some kind. This gets a little daunting but plays a large part in the story later.
To set the tone, The Party is exhibited in black and white, with the haunting yet seductive tune, ‘What is this thing called love?’ by Sidney Bechet playing on vinyl in the background. In fact, I have it playing as I write this. It’s splendid and both elements together give the film the vibe of an early Woody Allen picture.
Soon, we’re introduced to the guests as they file in, staggered so that we may have a complete and thorough examination of their character. Each congratulates Janet for a political accomplishment of some sort. Whatever the reason, and this is never quite made clear, this has all been a sophisticated setup to keep you restless and itching to find out the consequences as to why a celebration over a political win leads to a weapon being drawn.
Cherry Jones with her gravelly voice and unimposing self-assurance, is a strong presence in the film, playing Martha, married to the younger Jinny (Emily Mortimer) who is with child… with children. Martha, who came for a bash, now faces the biggest decision of her life.
The very memorable character, April, is played by Patricia Clarkson, who gets to somewhat portray the comic relief for the film but also carries the weight of being a more stereotypical female. Bitchy and ruthless, she attacks her beau Gottfried (Ganz) but she doesn’t discriminate, never holding her tongue. You can tell Clarkson has fun with the role getting to point out everyone’s flaws without regret.
Tom, played by the charismatic Cillian Murphy, walks in agitated and frantic about a deed he must carry out. When you learn why he’s there, you’ll wonder how he kept it together for so long. Murphy’s performance is aggressive and potent, however, I would have liked to have seen more of him.
All the players who postulate, proposing to know the reality of their situation, end up being fools, destroyed by their own egos. The actors who play them and bring this terrific tale to life, do a fantastic job of keeping the audience profoundly involved in the alternating storyline, without revealing the nuts and bolts of the situation and not exposing who they are or what’s going on until the director wants you to know.
Outside of these performances, what you’ll appreciate the most is learning what the party truly is… and how this yarn ends. Labeled a comedy/drama, the comedy is, to a large degree, missing and at times it feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. This is brilliant because struggles in life often turn out to be exactly that… not what you had planned.