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Opening July 27, 2017
Directed by: Sally Potter
Writing credits: Sally Potter
Principal actors: Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Patricia Clarkson, Cillian Murphy, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer
Sally Potter gives us a hilarious British comedy of perfect deadpan humor. Janet (a brilliant Kristin Scott Thomas) has just been named Health Minister in the British Shadow Cabinet and has organized a small celebration with cultured, liberal friends, all of whom misbehave. Janet’s husband Bill (Spall) appears mentally ill – sitting in a chair staring blankly ahead, his mouth gaping open, and not uttering a word until nearly the middle of the film when it turns out that he was just thinking. Like much of the film, Bill’s thoughts are upsetting to the party guests not to mention his wife. For one thing, it seems he is terminally ill. He also has another secret which is a whopper! But secrets are the meat of this party. A lesbian pair, (Jones and Mortimer) squabble over an indiscretion which took place 30 years earlier. Another guest, Tom, a younger man (Murphy) whose wife hasn’t yet arrived, snorts coke in the bathroom constantly, while alternatively fondling a gun (stowed in a holster under his arm) and throwing it in the garbage, where Janet eventually sees it and fishes it out. The civilized, middle-aged pair, April (Clarkson) and Gottfried, (Ganz) hate each other vehemently, and are happy to tattle. In short, a great party!! Enjoy it! ( )
Why was this movie shot in black and white? Using this format usually implies there’s a reason for doing so, to give a sense of the past, perhaps, but as The Party takes place in the present it seems pointless.
The movie has a dramatic opening scene but its pace soon slows down dramatically. Bill (Spall) puts a jazz LP on the stereo and then settles into his chair and stares into space. In the kitchen his wife Janet (Thomas) is preparing food for a party while receiving and sending text messages and phone calls. She is being congratulated on becoming the shadow minister for health in the British parliament. Her text messages, however, aren’t about her new appointment but about something quite different. Soon the guests start to arrive and what a clichéd bunch they are. They include a banker with a problem and a gay couple with multiple problems as well as all the enlightened liberal stereotypes you can think of. When everybody is assembled in the couple’s London living room Bill drops the first of his bombshells.
The Party feels like a stage play which has been filmed rather than a movie fresh from a film studio. Why confine your script to the equivalent of a stage set when your camera gives you the freedom to expand past such a limitation? You imagine that amateur dramatic companies everywhere will mentally be adding this script to their repertoire while watching the movie. Timothy Spall’s powerful acting and its unexpected ending partially redeem this movie but that isn’t enough to recommend that you go and watch it. The script and Sally Potter’s characters provide no new ideas or a fresh approach to current ones.
The Party is a current day film noir. The film starts as a comedy with interesting characters delivering witty dialogue. Sally Potter (writer and director) directs a captivating assortment of people who slowly reveal themselves and the interconnectedness of their lives. As personal layers are peeled away the story suddenly becomes humorless and moves toward darkness. She skillfully directs this all-star cast as they explore through her tragicomedy how people behave in crisis situations. The filmmaker described her work as a "comedy wrapped around a tragedy", a tragedy wrapped up in a comedy.
Janet (Thomas) has just won a position in the government and has invited a small intimate group of friends to her home to celebrate. The congratulatory calls keep coming over the phone while glasses of champagne are being raised in toasts. April (Clarkson) a sarcastic, sharp-tongued friend arrives with her ‘new age’ German spouse. As the party guests continue to arrive we begin to discern the characters as individual planets spinning in their own orbits and headed for a violent collision.
Intrigue is compounded with shattering revelations. Bill’s (Spall) cancer, Jinny’s (Emily Mortimer) pregnancy, current and past love affairs layered with illusions.
Which relationship will end with the unpredictable violent explosion of passion?