The Party, much like the characters within it, is a film full of contradictions. It is cinematic and theatrical, edgy and passive, rebellious and carefully calculated. The film’s sharp dialogue, the pulsing heart of the piece, is biting in its commentary and frivolous in its principles.
All of this makes for a brisk and tasty dish that leaves one still peckish afterwards.
Playing like a modern drawing-room comedy, Sally Potter’s satire of liberal intellectuals focuses on well-meaning politician Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas). To celebrate her recent promotion, Janet decides to hold a dinner party for her closet friends. As guests arrive, and the wine begins to flow, it does not take long for things to go downhill as everyone is harboring a secret or two. The biggest of which comes from Janet’s music loving husband Bill (Timothy Spall) who not only announces he has a terminal illness, but has also been having an affair with Tom’s wife (Cillian Murphy).
Over the course of 71 minutes, Potter not only shows how Janet, with the help of snarky April (Patricia Clarkson), copes with the shocking news, but also how Bill’s secret impacts the other guests – including April’s soon to be ex-partner Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) and expecting parents Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer) – who may or may not have a role to play in his adulterous ways.
Taking jabs at everything from the corruption in the pharmaceutical and medical industries to the superficial quantifier placed on women in politics, Potter offers plenty of commentary of those on the left side of politics trying to navigate what they consider to be a post-feminist, post-discrimination, post-everything world. Of course, the joke being that none of them truly have a grasp of the world that they speak of. For all their attempts at politically correct discourse they are all blinded by their own ambitions, desires, and vices.
It is the hypocrisy in these characters that allows Potter to sharply play up the wit in their conversations. However, when observing various story threads at play, the hollowness of the film beings to shine through. The characters and their problems are so thinly explored that, by time the film ends, it feels as if one has only experienced the first act rather than a complete work.
Fortunately for Potter, her exquisitely talented cast, Clarkson and Spall’s dry delivery is a particular delight, does a wonderful job of taking attention away from the film’s flaws. While not a meaty meal, this dinner party is worth spending time at if one is looking for some light entertainment.