FILM REVIEW: "The Party" is a stagey but darkly funny chamber piece
The Party is a black comedy that follows a, you guessed it, party; specifically a dinner party. It begins with a disturbed woman answering her door, aiming a gun at the person on the other side. And then it flashes back to earlier in the evening, during party preparations. But that dramatic opening scene functions as a kind of omen for the night that will follow.
The titular event is held in celebration of the newly appointed Health Minister for the shadow cabinet, Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas). Her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) sits morosely in the the living room, nursing a glass of wine and joylessly playing his records, a stark contrast to Janet’s frazzled preparations. The guests arrive one by one, allowing the audience to appreciate their eccentricities and determine their ‘role’ in the play. I say play because at 77 minutes, all in a single location and with limited cast, it feels like a stage show as opposed to a film. The cast and screenplay is strong enough to hold the audience’s attention and focus on what is essentially a shaggy dog story (a long anecdote filled with irrelevant points, all leading to a somewhat pointless punchline), without the need for added fuss or glamour. The interactions between the seven attendees gradually reveals the secrets that threaten to disintegrate their relationships.
Patricia Clarkson stands out as April, partly due to the one-liners that the script provides her (gems like telling Janet that she “looks like a girl, thinks like a man… ministerial, in a 21st-century postmodern, post-post-feminist sort of way”), and partly due to skilfully venomous delivery. Her role as Janet's confidante complements her impatience for her spiritual healer partner, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz). Every line of his is responded with an exasperated variation of “Oh, do shut up, Gottfried”. Yet it could be that they have the healthiest relationship of all of them.
Cillian Murphy was another enjoyable addition to the cast as Tom, the anxious and drug-addled “wanker banker”. His interactions with the easy-going Gottfried resulted in some of the loudest laughs.
Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer) are the bickering couple. While they are both strong actresses, I would argue that they were weaker additions to such a dynamic and talented cast. Their roles felt more like a filler than an essential part of the plot, and I found myself waiting for the film to cut to the other cast members. I struggled to track their motivations due to their extremely limited characterisation.
The black-and-white cinematography provides a retro feel when combined with the tunes from Bill’s carefully (and sometimes not so carefully) selected vinyl collection. The slow start culminates in a sequence of events that result in loud belly laughs from the audience. Sally Potter isn’t known for comedy, but she manages to pull through with this sharp and original production. At its best, it felt like a true slapstick British comedy, and despite its short duration, the length was appropriate. This was a short and sweet film that was a satisfying and enjoyable. There’s hope for Potter’s comedy aspirations yet.