`Party' doesn't do its characters any favors
By JUDE SEYMOUR
Scene Movie Critic
"The Anniversary Party," the directorial debuts of actors Alan Cumming ("Get Carter") and Jennifer Jason Leigh ("Single White Female"), is a voyeuristic peek inside a couple's sixth wedding anniversary party. Invited are cross-sections of Hollywood's petty, narcissistic and self-absorbed breeds posing as caring friends.
Over the course of two hours, the pool of invited guests manages to deconstruct one another before even attempting to rebuild their own narrow-minded existences.
The personalities stew in their self-constructed depression for such duration that their words become trite and their characterizations worth none of the audience's empathy. In the end, each character is most memorable for the potential that existed within themselves that they never bothered to explore.
"Anniversary Party," shot entirely on digital video, reports the story of Joe (Cumming), a novelist, and Sally (Leigh), an actress. They invite their closest friends over to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary, even if the last year has been tumultuous (they spent time away from each other in separate countries).
Their choices for invites are more political than friendly. Joe invites Skye (Gwyneth Paltrow) over because he wants her to play the female lead in his directorial debut (an adaptation of his latest novel). He also invites the neighbors over, Ryan (Denis O'Hare) and Monica (Mina Badie), to assuage the current tensions over Sally's barking dog and to avoid a possible lawsuit. The rest of the ensemble cast is filled out by the likes of Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly, Parker Posey and Jennifer Beals.
As the party begins to wind down, Skye produces her gift: 16 doses of the drug ecstasy. If the alcohol had not already loosened tensions, Joe sees this as an opportunity for the group to become even more carefree with themselves and with each other.
Unfortunately, the drugs seem to have the reverse effect: For the last half of the film, we witness brutally honest confrontations. Joe and Sally confront their fears of abandonment and of having children. Mac (Reilly) and Cal (Kline) realize Sally's constant detachment while acting is ruining the success of their movie. And Sally affronts her jealousy toward Gina (Beals), a former lover of Joe's.
The intention of "The Anniversary Party" is to cut away the fleshy insecurities of these Hollywood friends and expose the bones of their true nature, hoping that the audience will applaud the movie for its tough method of eliciting true feelings.
This theme, to expose the "fakeness" of people immersed in Hollywood, comes from a personal insight of Leigh and Cumming, using their debut as directors to speak their minds on issues that they felt were prevalent given their experience as actors.
With certain stories, they succeed admirably. Joe and Sally's confrontation, in the midst of an ecstasy excursion and a dog search, plays as extremely personal. They finally address all the issues that had been lurking just beneath the surface. Sally's issues include her rejection over not being cast in Joe's new movie and her fear that children will ruin her career. Joe's uncertainties lie in his sexual curiosities and consequent marital infidelity, his giant ego and a possible drug addiction. The array of issues in such a short period of time is dizzying to the viewer, leaving the audience surveying the wreckage of emotions long after the movie has moved onto another issue.
The scenes between Joe and Sally are where most of the film's character depth and emotions lie. Then again, it's no surprise that Cumming and Leigh are able to reveal such depth: Their characters are the movie embodiment of their real life personas.
Unfortunately for its audience, "The Anniversary Party" does not develop the rest of its ensemble in the same manner. The directors, therefore, shed no new insight on Hollywood's "fake" breed and present no solutions to overcome the pettiness of the movie star bunch. This, conjoined with the film's overall depressing tone, made its conclusion feel empty and lackluster.
After the events that transpired at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, audiences now crave films that engage and promote the goodness of the human spirit, films that will offer some hope for the future. Watching movie stars bicker and bellow horrific insults at each other is, at this juncture, terribly shortsighted. -Two and a half shamrocks (out of five)
Contact Jude Seymour at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Scene Stories for Thursday, September 27, 2001