by Toby Woollaston
Weighing in at a very modest seventy-one minutes, what The Party lacks in screen time it makes up for in detail. Writer/director Sally Potter has delivered a punchy dramedy that boldly fizzes with black humour and satire. While it doesn’t entirely avoid the oft-maligned staginess of a chamber-piece (a curse that’s not necessarily a bad thing if the writing is up to snuff), Potter has kept things visually as silver-tongued as her script, and it works … most of the time.
Kristin Scott Thomas plays the political matriarch Janet, who fresh off a promotion, puts together a small soirée to celebrate. The wonderful ensemble cast makes up the collection of invitees, each one giving this dark comedy plenty of meat and drink to dine on. There is Janet’s liberal-idealist friend April (Patricia Clarkson) with her hippy boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) in tow; there’s the academic Martha (Cherry Jones) and her pregnant partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer)—they’re a gay couple who both argue over the correct level of radical feminism to assume; and finally the outsider, a cocaine-snorting suit (Cillian Murphy).
Janet’s husband Bill, played by an overly forlorn Timothy Spall, sits sullenly as this dynamite-laden bandolier of guests file in and proceed to bristle with thorny exchanges and barbed retorts. It doesn’t take long before everyone begins lobbing bombshell announcements into the champaign and canapés.
With very little plot, the film risks becoming too script centric and while Potter’s screenplay weaves some spell-binding wit, it does occasionally become knowingly smug. Thankfully, Potter doesn’t let things get too stuffy and counters with some nice visual flourishes that utilise the limited set size to good effect. Shot entirely in black-and-white and utilising some lively camera and lighting choices, The Party is clearly giving a knowing wink to the screwball comedies of yesteryear.
The Party will likely split its audience into two camps. Some will find it bright, buoyant, playful, and sharp-witted. The cynical among us will most likely find it smarmy, morose, and irritating. Suffice to say, if you enter the theatre with the correct attitude you’ll probably have a lot of fun with this film.
Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.