REVIEW: The Party [2017]

Score: 4/10 | ★ ½


Rating: R | Runtime: 71 minutes | Release Date: October 13th, 2017 (UK)
Studio: Roadside Attractions
Director(s): Sally Potter
Writer(s): Sally Potter

“Another announcement. Good God.”

I admire what Sally Potter is trying to do with her black comedy The Party as experiment. She’s placed a group of friends with different political, economic, and romantic views into a single room, hanging a secret(s) over their heads with the potential to destroy their individual and communal identities. They’re provided the opportunity to come clean and be true to who they are despite what it might do to those around them, each embracing a desire to let their consistently over-inflated egos decide. Unfortunately that last bit ensures nobody can be sympathetic. Nobody earns the audience’s affection enough to stop hoping the film will end in a massacre with seven dead bodies on the floor. What do we therefore gain by watching their insufferably theatrical pomposity? Fun?

Are we supposed to be reveling in the tragic, karmic retribution these posh sophisticates are enduring throughout this evening’s 71-minutes of full disclosure? While it’s a laugh to listen to April (Patricia Clarkson) and Martha (Cherry Jones) derisively mock their host (Kristin Scott Thomas‘ Janet) from just outside the kitchen where her newly anointed Parliamentary minister is juggling congratulatory phone calls and the dinner she’s cooking, it’s less so to hear them all attempt one-liner quips built from pedantically verbose prose. The words Potter puts in her characters’ mouths are affected to a point beyond satire. Rather than laugh at the outlandish back-and-forth, I cringed at the self-satisfied smugness. Rather than appear expertly crafted and provocative, the dialogue felt lazily arcane in its heavily relied upon stereotypical cliché.

Every argument ignores its personal toll for the philosophical—Potter desperate to trigger us with try-hard attempts stripped of their power to trigger. Everyone hides true feelings behind cultivated ideals and labels. When Jinny (Emily Mortimer) is angry that her wife (Martha) doesn’t care, they argue about whether feminists should or shouldn’t call all men rapists. When April tries to console Janet after a bombshell revelation, she can’t help but do so by talking about herself and how she transformed from an idealist to a realist and really wouldn’t mind if her friend resorted to murder as though her thoughts above the police’s matter most. No one can simply explode because April’s faux guru boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) will ask him/her to take a step back and contemplate.

I thought Janet’s husband Bill (Timothy Spall) would be our savior. I thought his near catatonic state in the aftermath of his wife’s political victory would supply a grounded reaction of someone who might have been fooling himself or fooling her with his support. I thought he’d be allowed to become the sole character lacking artifice—although no less self-absorbed—only to discover his detachment from reality was brought on by not one, but two hidden declarations. So when his complexity is erased for more over-written greed, my last hope became young Tom (Cillian Murphy) and his gun. Maybe he’d kill his target and then pass the weapon to the next person until the last guest accepts his/her enemy is him/herself before putting it in his/her mouth.

But that’s not what happens. Instead we simply watch everyone’s circuitous travel patterns around each other. We watch their sanctimonious judging of everyone but themselves, each critique spoken a thinly veiled message revealing how unwittingly monstrous they are by comparison. Potter gives us moments of sympathy that are ultimately ignored because they aren’t earned beneath the trajectory the plot has bestowed upon them. The group deals in over-reactions and stubbornness until characters begin to talk to themselves as though they are giving themselves notes—”I may want to do this thing, but it’s not who I’ve been written as and I need to remind myself and the filmmaker out loud to avoid falling too deep into impulse.” They feign passion as though robots programmed to complete impossible tasks.

The whole is mechanical in this way throughout. The actors—while good—are putting on airs rather than acting with authenticity. It’s as though we see them thinking about what their character will do next rather than simply reacting. They are trapped along a path of carefully constructed reveals that usurp who they are outside of being catalysts for the story. And by proving themselves cyphers they render the story hollow. In the end the only true potential for surprise is figuring out whom Janet threatens with a gun at the very beginning of the film before the credits send us back in time hours previously. Sadly this eventual arrival comes with little but exhaustion because its attempt to hide a secondary secret fails for anyone paying attention.


photography:
[1] Kristin Scott Thomas in THE PARTY Photo credit: Nicola Dove Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
[2] Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy, Emily Mortimer, and Patricia Clarkson in THE PARTY Photo credit: Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
[3] Cillian Murphy in THE PARTY Photo credit: Nicola Dove Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

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