Film

The Party

A nasty bite

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

It may have its uses in describing butter cookies and cat videos, but it’s fair to say that “short and sweet” is an over-applied compliment. Sometimes it’s better to be short and severely, cheek-shrivelingly sour. So it proves in The Party, a deliciously heightened, caviar-black comedy that sets up its brittle, bourgeois characters like bowling pins and gleefully knocks them down in 71 minutes flat. Slight and self-contained, it won’t go down in cinema history as anything but, perhaps, the most purely fun film ever made by peculiar British experimentalist Sally Potter. Still, this sketch of an ambitious Westminster politician and dinner-party hostess (Kristin Scott Thomas), whose life comes spectacularly apart before the canapés are even served, is a consummate drawing-room divertissement, played with relish by a dream ensemble. Notwithstanding a somewhat strained twist, it’s as slender, sharp and snappish as a wishbone.

After opening with one of those all-too-ubiquitous flash-forward shots, with a harried-looking Janet (Scott Thomas) aiming a gun at an unseen target, the film jauntily works its way to that climax. It’s early evening, and guests are beginning to arrive at Janet’s elegant Victorian home in a leafy part of London—raising a toast to her recent appointment as Health Minister. First up is her acidly cynical best friend April (a never-more-waspish Patricia Clarkson), a former idealist who congratulates Janet in the same breath as declaring democracy “finished.”

April regards her boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), an anti-political humanist life coach, with eye-rolling contempt, though that counts as affection relative to her scorching dismissal of another pair of guests: dour academic Martha (Cherry Jones), a specialist in “gender differentiation on American utopianism,” and her newly pregnant partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who squabble over the correct degree of radical feminism to assume these days. An illiberal outlier among the guests is Prada-suited, cocaine-dusted finance shark Tom (a fine, antic Cillian Murphy), whose wife is mysteriously delayed; still, she’s practically more present at the party than Janet’s husband Bill (played in deliberately, comically checked-out fashion by Timothy Spall), who eventually rouses himself from a glazed fug of ennui to deliver the first of several sequential bombshells.

It’d poop The Party, so to speak, to reveal anything further—though this is less a plot-based exercise than a tipsily conversational one. Potter’s eminently quotable screenplay works up just enough narrative momentum to sustain a barrage of killer one-liners. With the hors d’oeuvres increasingly unlikely to be served, decorum is swiftly shed and these privileged vultures instead feed ravenously on each other’s ideals. “Tickle an aromatherapist and you’ll find a fascist,” April drily observes as even the most genteel guests begin to show their colors, and multiple relationships go into instant shock therapy.

It’s never specified to which political party Janet belongs—though she’s an ardent defender of the National Health Service, so she’s probably no Theresa May sympathizer—but she appears here so airily removed from the outside world that it hardly matters. Whichever side she’s on, it’s one opposed by April, brilliantly played by Clarkson as the kind of self-styled truth-teller who actually conceals a lot of herself in her blanket nihilism. (“Pretending hasn’t worked for your party for a while,” she tells Janet—and she could be talking about either her political party or this particular botched occasion.) The Party flatters neither woman’s position, nor the other guests’ ideological perches in between. Everyone at this woebegone soiree comes off as slightly absurd in what could be read as a blase, from-within satire of the “metropolitan elite” so savaged by U.K. conservatives of late.

One shouldn’t pull a muscle, however, in reaching for the subtext of Potter’s witty shaggy-dog story. Its giddy in-the-moment pleasures are enough, even if a final kicker of a reveal doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in retrospect. While this kind of chamber material risks seeming plucked from the stage—it isn’t, incidentally—Alexey Rodionov’s nimble monochrome lensing and Anders Refn and Emilie Orsini’s antsy editing lend Potter’s script a propulsively cinematic, bouncing-off-the-walls quality, smartly drawing to a close just as the joke threatens to wear thin.

Potter’s cast, meanwhile, is perceptibly having a blast with her savory invective and insults. There’s nothing to dislike about a film that gives Patricia Clarkson the chance to tell Cherry Jones that she’s a “first-rate lesbian and a second-rate thinker.” Months after the U.S. election campaign turned an intended jibe into a rallying cry, Sally Potter’s latest further proves there’s pleasure, pride or both to be taken in being a nasty woman.

March Silver Reef
More Film...
Apollo 11
Found footage of the moon shot

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969, first manned moon landing, the documentary Apollo 11 brings back once more the awe of that event. What makes this film different from numerous other such movies is that, in many instances, it utilizes footage never before seen…

more »
Everybody Knows
Of secrets and lies

The outer threat, the inner wound and the mystery in between. These are the determinant factors in Asghar Farhadi’s intimately painful and powerfully acted kidnap drama, crucially anchored by three heavyweight performances from Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Ricardo Darin.

It has been…

more »
The Academy Awards
Heavy metal Hollywood

Oscar is having a tough year.

It would seem the road to Hollywood’s heavy metal is paved with poor decisions and murky intentions on the part of the possibly still esteemed Academy. First, was that thing with the proposed and then rescinded Best Popular Picture category, which was…

more »
Events
Today
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Regional High School Art Show

8:00am|Northwest Educational Service District

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Cook It and Book It

3:30pm|Lynden Library

Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Flavors of the Philippines

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

Imar

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Punch Up Comedy Showcase and Open Mic

7:30pm|The Shakedown

Trove Web
Tomorrow
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Regional High School Art Show

8:00am|Northwest Educational Service District

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Lynden Front Streeters

2:00pm|Village Books

Ferndale Book Group

2:30pm|Ferndale Library

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Ferndale Books on Tap

6:30pm|DownTime Taps

Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Balanced Plant-Based Living

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Moon Walk

6:30pm|Whatcom County

Milo Petersen Quartet

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Grain by Grain

7:00pm|Village Books

Burlington-Edison Choir Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Trove Web The Hunts
Thursday
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Regional High School Art Show

8:00am|Northwest Educational Service District

Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

12:00pm

Imagine Convergence on Orcas Island

12:00pm|Rosario Resort

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Dig Deep

3:00pm|Deming Library

Happy Hour Thursdays

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Pub Run

6:00pm|Stone's Throw Brewery

Ancient Beauty

6:30pm|Deming Library

Native American Flute Workshop

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Cross-Country Bicycling Travelogue

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Peter Pan, A Musical Adventure

7:00pm|Meridian High School

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Wild Mercy

7:00pm|Village Books

Asleep at the Wheel

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Dyo Festival Plays

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Bellingham Puppetry and Mask Festival

7:30pm|Alternative Library

Asleep at the Wheel

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Legally Blonde Trove Web The Hunts Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1