Because "The Party" is a very short film --- 71 minutes --- this was intended to be a very brief review. Written and directed by Sally Potter, who has assembled a truly marvelous cast, "The Party" is a dark comedy set in real time, filmed in black and white, which dramatically adds to the complexities of the host and invited guests.
Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) has just been promoted to Shadow Minister for Health in the U.K. Her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), with whom she shares their London town home, is an academic. We quickly learn that he put much of his life on hold to support Janet in her political career.
As Janet busily prepares for her dinner party, her cell phone constantly rings with messages of congratulations. Bill is otherwise occupied with playing his prized vinyl albums and drinking wine. The first guests to arrive are Janet's best friend, April (Patricia Clarkson) and her partner, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a life coach whom April seems to despise.
Next at the door are Martha (Cherry Jones), Bill's oldest and dearest friend --- and fellow
academic --- with her lesbian partner, Jinny (Emily Mortimer) in tow. After congratulations all around for Janet and her amazing promotion, Jinny has a rather big announcement of her own.
Last to arrive is Tom (Cillian Murphy) sans wife Mary, whom he says will be coming along later. Tom is dressed to the nines in an expensive suit, looking impressively smart. But his actions betray his cool demeanor --- and his constant need of the bathroom.
Potter has crafted quite a screenplay. With the acting confined to the kitchen, living room, patio --- and bathroom --- little escapes the audience as we peer into this dinner party feeling like voyeurs. As the evening wears on, secrets are revealed and lives are irrevocably changed, especially with the final --- oh, I'm not giving that away.
Like any great director, Potter is obsessed with finding just the right actors for her films. She has chosen well --- all of these thespians are exemplary --- perfectly suited for their roles. It is a tour-de-force example of a character-driven movie with masterful writing. The dialogue is whip smart with barbs flying fast and furious.
Clarkson is particularly brilliant. April is as acerbic as one has ever witnessed on screen, and Clarkson times her zingers with perfection, making it appear so effortless. I have been a big fan since "The Station Agent", one of my all-time favorite films. She shares the screen with a young Peter Dinklage and Bobby Cannavale, and the three of them are amazing together --- funny, delightful and poignant. If you've never seen it --- find it!
Much like "Maudie" last year, "The Party", being a February release, may be forgotten by the time December rolls around. And that, too, would be a shame. Potter's work is decidedly a rare and darkly humorous portrayal of the upper middle class.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
What do a lesbian couple pregnant with triplets, a wealthy financier, and a couple who constantly bicker have in common? They're all guests at a soiree thrown by a woman and her husband to celebrate her ascent to a high position in the British government.
"The Party" was filmed in black and white, runs for a total of 71 minutes, and was shot primarily in a single locale: a living room. Writer/director Sally Potter agonized over her cast choices, all of whom say it was impossible to turn her down.
The film is a dark comedy with serious overtones. It is also fascinating to view, and probably should be seen a second time. We get to know these characters on an intimate basis in the first 10 minutes, something many movies fail to accomplish in their entirety.
With champagne and red wine flowing early, the celebratory mood quickly shifts --- or should I say deteriorates --- into a melange of revelations and confessions, with a dab of violent behavior for good measure. The filmmakers compare "The Party" to the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton classic "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", among others.
The veteran actors, all with sterling stage careers as well as film, include Kristin Scott Thomas as Janet (the new Shadow Minister for Health); Timothy Spall as her husband, Bill; Patricia Clarkson as Janet's caustic friend April, and Bruno Ganz as her partner, Gottfried; Cherry Jones as Martha, one half of the lesbian couple, and Emily Mortimer as Jinny, the other half who is expecting three babies; and Cillian Murphy as Tom, the banker with a personal problem that contributes to this film's R-rating.
The movie was shot 90% with a hand-held camera, while the cast was given one week to rehearse, and two more weeks for completion. How refreshing to see a feature-length film in only an hour and eleven minutes --- less than the average blockbuster and more entertaining.
Opinion: See It Now!