The British director helms a tightly-wound, real-time portrait of a dinner party gone wrong.
While “the party” of The Party most likely refers to the dinner party being depicted therein, it could allude to a political party. Kristin Scott Thomas stars in the work from Sally Potter (Orlando, The Tango Lesson) as Janet, the newly-appointed Minister of Health within her party’s administration. She accepts congratulatory calls as she bakes in her kitchen for the group of close friends soon to arrive and celebrate with her. Husband Bill (Timothy Spall) mopes in the living room, spinning jazz record after jazz record; these snippets of songs are the soundtrack for Potter’s absurd comedy.
Strung with the underlying tension of a whodunnit suspense novel, Potter’s film allows an ensemble of characters to tussle and spat. Patricia Clarkson’s April delivers lines dripping with acerbic wit, accompanied by her more placid soon-to-be ex Gottfried (Bruno Ganz, Downfall). Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer play an expectant couple, loaded with trepidation about the changes to come. Cillian Murphy as Tom turns up late to the event, unbalanced and strung out for reasons which eventually come to light.
The central relationship of the film turns out to be between dear friends Janet and April as loves falter and flame out. April refers to Janet “doing a Thatcher” as she prepares the meal; Janet later tells April, “You disguise yourself as a cynic.” Clarkson and Thomas keep their characters grounded as their lifeplans change during the span of the film. They share a fierce loyalty to each other.
The camera follows the players of The Party in intense, sharp motion. Limiting the set to the interior and exterior patio of a house adds a sense of intimacy and, later, claustrophobia. Hints of chaos creep in to Janet’s celebration, whether it be the sound of a smoke alarm or a gun thrown in a trash bin. The twist of the ending surprised me so much that I shrieked, even though the last shot mirrors the first. I wanted more time with April, Janet, and the rest of the motley crew assembled by Potter, but The Party comes to an abrupt halt.
The Party opens in Austin on Friday, March 2 at Violet Crown Cinema and the Regal Arbor Cinema at Great Hills.