“…The Party is an absolute triumph, expertly blending the existential with the at times absurd, in a most thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining film.”
Sally Potter’s sharp and witty film, The Party – based upon her own screenplay – is a short and snappy affair, yet succeeds in packing all manner of comedic goings-on into its modest 72 minute running time.
Although undoubtedly covering familiar ground, namely, the party from hell – think Mike Leigh’s toe-curlingly marvellous Abigail’s Party for a starting point – The Party, shot in classic monochrome, is in many ways a darker piece than its predecessor .
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Janet. Celebrating a significant promotion within the world of politics, she, and the rock in her life – her apparently dour, distracted husband, Bill (Timothy Spall) – are hosting a get-together for their closest friends.
From Janet’s best friend and steadfast ally, April, (Patricia Clarkson), her husband, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), and Janet’s lesbian friends, Martha (Cherry Jones), and partner, Jinny (Emily Mortimer), to the super-agitated, Tom (Cillian Murphy); a more ill-matched assembly one couldn’t hope to coerce into a single London town house.
But this is the least of Janet’s worries, for very real trouble awaits. Bill, spinning his favourite LP’s with obsessive compulsion, is poised to drop the proverbial turd in the punch bowl with a shattering revelation, derailing Janet’s celebratory soirée, and indeed their relationship, in the process.
Over the ensuing couple of awkward hours, Bill’s untimely divulgement will however prove to be merely the tip of the iceberg. A most inconvenient hidden truth will slowly reveal itself, implicating directly or indirectly just about everybody in the house in some way.
Potter’s piece is initially something of a slow burner, but like a jigsaw, pieces that are initially disconnected and make little sense in isolation, in time begin to form something of a picture. And what a picture it is!
Each of Janet’s friends’ characters are gradually unveiled, and their roles in the unfolding mess soon become clear, but in fairness, even without the fault line that runs precariously beneath these friendships, each individual’s personality alone might well be reason enough to trigger all sorts of fractious behaviour within the group.
The impatient sour-faced April can barely tolerate her incessantly optimistic cod-philosophising husband, Gottfried, and his insistence upon healing and life-coaching those around him, whilst Martha is proving far too calm and mature and not nearly ‘right-on’ enough for her often hysterical and naively idealistic, pregnant partner, Jinny, who is positively repulsed by the very thought that Martha might at some point in time have ever been with a man.
Even before his bombshell, Bill’s withdrawn, morose outlook is not helping matters, whilst Tom – the complete antithesis of this – is a powder keg, about to go off. Concealing a firearm beneath his jacket, and sweating with anxiety, he frantically paces up and down, stopping only for frequent visits to the bathroom to ‘powder his nose’.
And all the while, Janet attempts to be the perfect host. But even she is hiding something.
It’s very painful, it’s highly amusing and hugely farcical at times, with one crisis leading head-long into another, as Janet’s festivities descend into unmitigated chaos and disaster.
Shot entirely within Janet and Bill’s home, Potter’s dialogue-heavy film is the sort of piece that could very easily be adapted for the stage, and I dare say that it was written with that in mind. The cast is tremendous and the performances, right across the board, are unsurprisingly of the very highest calibre. With such a wealth of impressive talent on show, thankfully the temptation for the director to over-indulge any of them in any sort of extended soulful monologues is largely resisted, much to the benefit of the film’s overall feel and flow.
Whether examining our own mortality, the perils of materialism, the complexity of relationships, or our sinking moral values, The Party, is an absolute triumph, expertly blending the existential with the at times absurd, in a most thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining film.