Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Sally Potter
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Rating: R for Pretentious Strong Language and Furtive Cocaine Bumps
Release Date: February 16, 2018
If you want to make the case that The Party is a worthwhile viewing experience, you must remember that Patricia Clarkson is playing a cynical realist and that Bruno Ganz, as her estranged significant other, is playing a spiritualist. (There is another couple made up of an idealist and a materialist, but their philosophies don’t make as much of an impression.) Now you may be thinking, what is a fight between academic theories doing in a movie that is ostensibly about people? And initially, as I realized that wow, this is really going directly after that lecture hall crowd, I was just as disturbed as you may be. But it soon becomes clear enough that I do not especially care what is going on with these people and therefore pompous piffle like commenting about behaving in a “20th-century postmodern post-post-feminist sort of way” actually serves to lend this whole affair some personality.
The occasion for the titular get-together is Janet’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) appointment to shadow minister of health as a member of the British opposition party. As she is getting ready in the kitchen and chatting with April (Clarkson), her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) is in the living room, staring vacantly into the distance of the backyard, while Gottfried (Ganz) observes him with curiosity. Some more guests arrive: Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who announce that their in vitro fertilization efforts have finally taken; and topping it all off is Tom (Cillian Murphy), with promises that arriving later for dessert will be his s.o. Marianne, who remains a topic of tension-spiked discussion throughout.
Then, as cinematic soirees tend to go, secrets are revealed and grievances are aired, much of it having to do with affairs. Ultimately, it appears that everyone has slept with the same person or slept with someone who has slept with that someone. Confined to the location of Janet and Bill’s home, The Party often feels like a play, and a one-act one at that, clocking in at just over 70 minutes. There are not many stylistic touches that require this drama to be on film instead of on a stage, save for the black-and-white photography (which does not serve much thematic purpose anyway). At least the short runtime is appreciated. The tone is too caustic for my tastes to be bearable for too long, and since there are no genuine characters, just a bunch of types, it helps that it makes its point quickly and then makes a hard exit.
The Party seems to be commenting on its own shallowness in the banter between April and Gottfried, as she constantly upbraids him for his frequent use of aphorisms, while she continues to make smug, pretentious remarks that are not helpful in any practical way. But Gottfried wins me over right away, because he is just happy-go-lucky while spouting clichés even as his partner constantly insults him. April, however, is too cold to embrace at first. But once it is clear that the film does not exactly agree with what she is saying, you can enjoy her for her ridiculousness and for the relish with which Clarkson spits such venom.
The Party is Recommended If You Like: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Attending university philosophy lectures
Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Burnt Pastries