Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sally Potter's The Party Is An Agreeable Gathering

Dinner parties rarely go according to plan in the movies and Sally Potter's The Party is no exception. A gathering for Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) to celebrate her being appointed to the position of minister of the UK Health Service ends up spiraling into a lot of chaotic drama that rarely involves Janet. First her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), announces he's dying and later states that he's also been carrying on an affair. then a coked-up Tom (Cillian Murphy) has his own insecurities relating to his marriage to hash out while Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and Martha (Cherry Jones), who are expecting a child, find themselves caught up in a potentially devastating argument.

All the while April (Patricia Clarkson), a long-time best friend of Janet, is mostly on the sidelines of all this drama where she offers up all kinds of wry observations on the proceedings. Her character gets the most memorable pieces of dialogue in a script (penned by Sally Potter, the film's director) that frequently feels like it could be done as a play without any trouble at all. The fact that it's all entirely reliant on dialogue and makes use of only one primary location (Janet's house, where the party is being held) are attributes of the motion picture that feel like they would especially lend themselves well to the world of staged performances.

As a movie though, The Party manages to work quite well, though as a whole it's more interesting than outright captivating. Much of the entertainment in The Party simply comes from watching things get more and more out of control, which is indeed a fun sight to see, Sally Potter has a keen sense for how to properly constantly ramp up the interpersonal conflict. That means the various plot twists and turns are enjoyable to watch unfold, but because the characters aren't fleshed out to a point that one could become invested in their individual plights, The Party works better as an in-the-moment experience rather than a contemplative character study.

Even if the characters really don't leave you with a lot to chew on after the credits stop rolling, some of the performances will at least certainly stick with you. Patricia Clarkson especially is a hoot as pessimistic April, her assorted cutthroat observations of the madness transpiring around her are sharply written by Potter while Clarkson delivers them in a delightful manner. Cillian Murphy, who I had no idea was Irish in real-life prior to seeing him use that natural accent of his here, is also fun as a drugged up member of the group while Emily Mortimer excels in depicting her character's sense of confusion at the revelations about her partner's past.

Getting noteworthy work out of the small cast at her disposal is one of the best qualities found in Sally Potter's directing on The Party, while her ability to be cognizant of and smartly utilize the small amount of space found in many of the environment the characters inhabit in how stages certain scenes is also noteworthy. On that note regarding the film's visuals, I wish there were longer takes and a larger supply of wider shots throughout The Party since both elements would allow the flow of various conversations between characters to flow better, but there's still some fine editing and cinematography to be found here that help The Party be a fine gathering.

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