Writer/director Sally Potter stunned audiences with her debut feature ORLANDO, a hit with art-house audiences. THE PARTY can be described as less art-house but Potter’s mark is still clearly noticeable.
Her characters in this farce all have strong political leaning, engage in same or opposite sex relationships and have deep personal conflicts.
The film opens with a door opening and Janet holding a gun nervously pointed at the visitor. It is a black and white scene and the film returns to this scene at the end of the film. This creates some anticipation for the audience. The audience would se how Janet came to obtain the gun and also the reason she is pointing it at a guest.
The film shifts to the present where each character is introduced. The lead character is Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), a politician for the opposition party, who has just been appointed a minister. She is having a small celebration party at her house for her hard work done, supported by her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall). Invited are her friends April (Patricia Clarkson), with her estranged German partner Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a life coach and self-proclaimed spiritual healer, Women’s studies professor Martha (Cherry Jones), with her partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer), a cook, and Janet’s colleague and subordinate Marianne with husband Tom (Cillian Murphy), a banker.
As the guests arrive, Janet’s husband Bill sits in his chair, listening to music, staring vacantly, and drinking wine. All invited guests arrive one by one except Marianne, who Tom says will arrive later. (The audience can guess that the guess the gun pointed to at the start of the film is Marianne.)
Janet has thrown a soiree from hell. Bile and bitterness have never been portrayed in a film to be so endearing. Instead of celebrating her success, she ends up as a magnet opening skeletons in the closet. Director Potter keeps the black humour coming in terms of both dialogue and action set pieces (Tom running up a cold sweat ding cocaine; Bill being punched up a couple of times.)
Potter writes sharp and occasionally witty dialogue (Martha described for example by her daughter as a first class lesbian and a second class mother) though some of the lines, particularly those on politics and feminism sound pretentious. Example: Janet described as “looking like a girl, thinking like a man… ministerial, in a 21st-century postmodern, post feminist sort of way”. Potter has assembled an excellent cast, the best performance coming from German actor Bruno Ganz matched by Patricia Clarkson playing his girlfriend who constantly puts him down. Spall plays the serious role while Scott anchors down the story. It is the performances that make the movie.
THE PARTY suffers from not bringing the proceedings to a closure. But for an art-house audience open ended stories with no conclusions are accepted. THE PARTY also moves at a hectic pace so that it all comes to an end too quickly. This is a party the characters want to end quickly but the audience wishes to stretch on.