Directed by Sally Potter
Starring Kristen Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy, Patricia Clarkson
This new black-and-white chamber drama, written and directed by Sally Potter, is an exercise in making the most out of so little. The limited setting, limited run-time, and limited number of characters are filled with conflict and drama that effortlessly keeps this party interesting, even if not all the guests are.
Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) is celebrating her new position as minister of health for the opposition party, so she throws a little get-together in celebration (which will, of course, all go wrong). Just after the drinks are poured and before even the entrees can be served, the many grievances and dark secrets of the party-goers begin to be aired out, starting with one revelation from Janet’s husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), whom she claims has been supportive by her side for so long, yet he appears downright catatonic and anti-social as he reveals his grave news.
Although The Party’s storyline is nicely succinct, the film could still benefit from a bit more substance, ergo a bit longer of a run-time. Just over an hour in and the ending credits already begin to roll, with only a handful of the characters feeling fully fleshed out. Janet and her husband at least feel more and more like a real couple as they establish their relationship (mostly through arguments) throughout the film, as do the couple Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer), whose relationship is tested by their increasingly uncertain plans to have kids.
However, it’s the kookier characters that don’t stack up, some believing they are funnier than the film itself. Tom (Cillian Murphy) is a nervous wreck as he has an assassination plan on his mind, but Murphy does well with the character’s indecisiveness, leading to the film’s funnier moments. But the one-joke character Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) has no purpose other than to spout new-age sentiments and Eastern philosophical sound-bites. Similarly, there’s his girlfriend, April (Patricia Clarkson), who has no purpose other than to spout sarcastic take-downs of his comments (and most of what anyone else says), making her not only aggressively unlikeable, but completely unapproachable and hollow as a character.
Despite the unsatisfactory ensemble, there’s enough joy to be had from the characters that do work, and even the ones that don’t work have some fine performance bringing them to life. The Party may not illicit enough laughs to even be classified as a black comedy, but it is a tightly and playfully written drama that couldn’t have gone wrong with the cast that it has.
The Party plays at UWA Somerville from Mon 1-Sun 7 Jan, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tues 9-Sun 14 Jan, 8pm. For more info head to perthfestival.com.au.