The Anniversary Party Reviews
But like any party only being attended by a handful of guests, many of them being old friends and secret lovers, there is a tension we quickly can see invisibly brewing in the air. This characteristic is especially noticeable after Joe invites Skye Davidson (Gwyneth Paltrow), a young actress, to the festivities; she is the woman, it seems, that will be playing the part based off Sally in Joe's upcoming film. A smooth move by Joe, to be sure. And so, like we'd expect in a film made solely as an acting exercise, the party grows increasingly haughty, emotions growing more and more blazing as it wears on. And after Skye gives Sally and Joe ecstasy for a present and gets everyone in the house higher than a kite, we can be sure that things won't be ending prettily. Eruptions, passionate monologues, and revelations will ensue. This isn't a party anyone's going to forget about.
"The Anniversary Party" is also written, directed, and produced by leading stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming, who decided to become co-filmmakers after working together and finding themselves to be an artistic partnership made in heaven. And for what "The Anniversary Party" is, their endeavor is mostly successful - the tension is very much believable, the dialogue cutting, the characters written with enough dimension to keep an ensemble of this size busy instead of wasted on meandering material. It sets out to be a soul sister of the films of Cassavetes, and maybe even a quasi-homage to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," if I'm going for broad comparison. It's the kind of film made by artists who want to try their hand at something more difficult than what they're used to. So we're relieved that Leigh and Cumming are adroit as filmmakers and not just actors looking to spend their time helming a vanity project.
Shot on digital and featuring a cast mostly comprised of old co-stars, the film is believable in its portrayal of an uncomfortable anniversary party. But while I'm in admiration of its simplicity, and the way it is a sturdy writing/directing debut for Leigh and Cumming, I never found myself considering "The Anniversary Party" to be anything more than a good excuse for everyone involved to get together and show off their chops - it's an exercise more than it is something great, and that feeling is inescapable. Still, it accomplishes what it wants to achieve decently well, and Leigh and Cumming aren't some wannabes unsure of what direction to take the film.
It's painfully clear only minutes in that the all-star cast is a product of the writing/directing couple's connections, a fact that is just as painful as the imitation Dogme aesthetic afforded to the makers by their sub-independent budget. That being said, watching these actors interact over the period of two hours is alternatively as engrossing as a Paul Thomas Anderson film as it is grating in its under-developed conceit.
It's easy to pinpoint that the best moments of this film operate on a strictly emotional level; as any cluster of talented actors would tell you, their job is sheer evocation, and this script gives them one giant opportunity to emote while they repeat their lines, and their presence among friends gives them an unparalleled sense of ease with their performances that tends to make the film more interesting with each growing moment until it culminates in a fight that would have even the most jaded viewer cringing in discomfort.
Those passing by the film on cable will likely not stop for more than a second to glance at this, but those who make the effort to see this will not be let down by the depth and vastness of the dramatic portrayals captured here.
I rather enjoyed this, especially as it turns out that despite the 19 years since Fast Times (and 11 since Gremlins 2), Cates is still taste. It was a pretty predictable film â?? the Ch 4 continuity announcer warned me there would be scenes of drug taking, so I knew someone would have an experience with death, we learn early on that the couple with the anniversary are on shaky ground, so it's pretty much guaranteed to get a lot more shaky later on and, erm, well, nothing much else happens. There's an anniversary party, there are guests, some people don't get on, Paltrow gets everyone stoned.
I don't buy Alan Cumming, who is half of the anniversary couple, even as bisexual. Some stereotypes are there for a reason and Alan looks really gay â?? perhaps I'm forever jaded by that flight attendant sitcom from years back but he doesn't help matters by mincing about in a tight vest with his hair scrunched up for most of the second half. Unless that's what happens when you take ecstasy.
The series of speeches made by the guests of the party were apparently improvised and rather indulgent. Kevin Kline gets his daughter to do a dance which (unless I've forgotten something) wasn't played for laughs, a bunch of acoustic guitar wielding bruisers come along and sing some comedy songs that would be cringeworthy even on the Now Show, and the rest of the party, in turn, hark on about what a great couple this fictional couple are. Bothered.
Also indulgent was the actors workshop scene near the end when the anniversary couple have their long predicted row, escalating in melodramatic comebacks â?? "you're a crap writer" "well you're a crap actress" SPOILER "well I aborted our baby" MADE UP "well I'm fucking your mom."
That said, most of it was very entertaining, even with these pretensions. The tussles with the next door neighbours I found funny and, erm, Parker Posey gets them out. Though the signing for the deaf lady got in the way for most of it.