A political nomination, triplets on the way, a terminal diagnosis, a constantly chiming cell phone, and a pistol. These are the nodes determining the tizzy that is The Party, a black-and-white dark comedy from Sally Potter.
Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) has just received a new position within the opposition party. To celebrate, she hosts a small get together with friends.
At least, they appear as friends.
Husband Bill (Timothy Spall) sits dour in a chair, only stirring to move the needle on his turn table. College friend April (Patricia Clarkson) is quick to judge every manner of things while her estranged boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) offers spiritual bromides. Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer) appear happy for Janet, but they are preoccupied with developments of their own. And Tom (Cillian Murphy), husband of campaign colleague Marianne, is more preoccupied with the cocaine haze that is determining his every move.
The Party is quite clearly an actor’s movie, and its cast does not disappoint. The black-box play that is the drama has a current of electricity that sparks from each member of the small ensemble. Through my eyes, Jones and Spall are standouts, but it is the type of ensemble that is sure to elicit different favorites from every viewer.
As much as the acting is finely tuned and pulsating with implosive energy, the film itself lacks a certain polish. Black and white cinematography may be the quick way to make a film look elegant, and this contrasts nicely with the inelegance of the characters. All the same, the film remains unfinished when the credits roll.
It is a choice that holds a nice bit of intentionality to it. We drop in on these lives on just one evening; it is only fitting that we step out before the threads are resolved. But this leaves an unfulfilling vacancy, just as every character is itself an unfulfilled vacancy. Relationships disintegrate expediently, before we fully comprehend how broken the relationships were before the characters walked in the door. We understand the present turmoil, but the road to it is foggy. As such, it all reads a tad over dramatic, particularly given how the action culminates.
The drama these characters produce is petty enough for satire. To this end, the pseudo-intellectual philosophical debates get to be fun. The petty squabbles over relationships, on the other hand, get to be grating.
In other words, a tongue-in-cheek dialogue over the merits of Western medicine is dandy. The argument that stems from a personal revelation and leads to the films climax, conversely, is an articulate fury of petty insecurities.
First world problems has a new exemplar in these squabbles, and of course that is the intent. Watching the height of the “civilized” academic class crumble under the weight of petty personal problems is meant to be a comedy of errors, or maybe a satire of oblivious liberal elitism. It is an intriguing comic design that yields some smirks, but in total it is a comedy of absurdist pretension with much more bark than bite.
The Party: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)