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Overall Rating
3.23

Awesome: 15.09%
Worth A Look33.96%
Average: 30.19%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 20.75%

5 reviews, 23 user ratings


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Anniversary Party, The
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by Andrew Howe

"Leigh, Cumming and a little help from their friends"
3 stars

If I wrote a script, grabbed a digital camera, inveigled my friends into providing acting talent and spent nineteen days shooting a film set solely within the confines of an anniversary party, I’d understand if you greeted my masterpiece with an air of studious indifference. If, however, my friends included the likes of Kevin Kline, Gwyneth Paltrow and John C. Reilly, you’d have to sit up and take note. At least, that’s what Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh are hoping you’ll do, and given The Anniversary Party’s minimal overheads they’ve got nothing to lose but their credibility.

The script takes its cues from The Big Chill and Peter’s Friends – grab a bunch of old friends and sundry hangers-on; bring them together for an orgy of booze, drugs and true confessions; and wait for the fireworks to start. Unfortunately, for the majority of its duration The Anniversary Party feels like a homage to the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour – the ingredients are inviting, and the potential exists for the participants to embark on a life-changing spiritual odyssey, but events conspire to turn the journey into something intolerably mundane.

This is a testament to Cumming and Leigh’s unwavering commitment to reality scripting – the last party I hosted featured little in the way of screaming matches, fistfights and the consummation of decade-old longing, and neither does this one. What is does feature is a surfeit of petty sniping, endless rounds of mind-numbing small talk, lashings of 3.00 a.m. depression and an interminable sequence in which every single attendee runs a shtick designed to praise the hosts for finding true love (I sincerely hope this kind of thing doesn’t actually happen at anniversary parties, because if it does I’ll be filing any invitations I receive in the trash can). None of this is exactly riveting, and suggests that there was a significant amount of on-set improvisation, which is the kind of thing that’s best left to Williams, DeNiro and directors who have no regard for the viewer’s ability to stomach excessive self-indulgence.

The script’s primary failing is that, in keeping with the hosts’ inability to do anything for themselves (they exercise under the guidance of a personal trainer, and cooking duties are performed by a stereotypical ethnic housekeeper), at least half the guests appear to have been sourced from the Hollywood branch of Rent-a-Crowd. The damn doorbell never stops ringing, and the absence of backing stories means that the long introductory sequence fails to achieve its purpose, which is to establish the characters and their relationships (several of the attendees exist for no better reason than to flesh out the endless parade of well-wishing with ridiculous compositions of their own devising). The partygoers then proceed to wander around until the camera finds them, at which point they may or may not be doing something of interest, and that’s hardly an invitation to spend the better part of two hours in their company.

If you decide to stick it out, however, you’ll be privy to the occasional flash of inspiration. The scriptwriters evidently intended for the viewer to take on the role of a gatecrasher, which is to say that the key to many of the relationships requires one to read between the lines, paying attention to the gestures, the throwaway lines and the things people don’t say, rather than what they do. For example, you get the impression that Joe (Alan Cumming) entertains thoughts of a bedtime reunion with his ex-lover and “best friend” Gina (a fine performance from Jennifer Beals, who has spent many years consigning Flashdance to the realms of bitter memory), an idea that stems from the sexual tension evident in their horseplay and the fact that Joe’s wife Sally (Jennifer Jason Leigh) hates her guts. At the very least, he delights in using Gina to remind Sally that she was by no means the first of his great loves, and the fact that Gina appears to be a willing accomplice is at odds with her surface attempts to bless their relationship (her gift is a framed photo of the hosts in an affectionate bedroom embrace). This is consummate scripting, and if it had been used as the basis for the entire film we might have had a near-masterpiece on our hands.

Strangely enough, the other highlight is as subtle as a train wreck, and features the kind of contrived scripting (the unexpected revelation, the unexpected tragedy) that is normally the mark of a creatively-bankrupt scribe looking for a cheap emotional reaction. It’s difficult to complain, however, because it results in one of the most blistering domestic arguments this side of Once Were Warriors - every bile-tinged note rings true, and it slides into another sequence which perfectly captures the despair that comes with being forcibly wrenched from a state of blissful intoxication.

You could argue that Cumming and Leigh haven’t paid enough dues to be indulging in pet projects at this stage of their careers, but neither of them is undeserving of the exposure. Cumming isn’t a particularly well-known actor, but his laid-back, natural performance is the film’s greatest asset, and he effortlessly captures Joe’s heady mix of roguish charm and childlike naivety. Sally provides a level-headed counterpoint to Joe’s emotional immaturity, but her grip on reality is just as tenuous as her partner’s, and Leigh (who appears to have improved with age) should be afforded a certain measure of respect for scripting herself a character that most actresses in the middle of their careers would avoid like the plague (playing, as she does, an actress past her prime, with more than a passing nod to Bette Davis’ role in All About Eve).

There’s not much to say about the rest of the cast, since most of them are given little to do and even less time to do it in – Reilly and Kline are wasted on thankless roles, but the post-Duets Paltrow turns in another endearing performance, Jane Adams wanders in from her permanent lodgings at the dark end of the street, and Mina Badie (Leigh’s half-sister) and the “serene” Phoebe Cates loom surprisingly large.

The Anniversary Party is by no means a failure – it features a handful of fine performances, and when it’s firing on all cylinders it sets the screen alight. Unfortunately, the unfocussed script is in need of substantial revision, since Cumming and Leigh were evidently more concerned with finding roles for all of their friends than with crafting a tight, knowing treatise on adult relationships. It’s still a film worth considering, however, if only for the moments when it’s exactly that.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5364&reviewer=193
originally posted: 10/18/01 08:04:25
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User Comments

9/12/05 zeitgeist Pretentious garbage made by, for, and about complete assholes 1 stars
6/14/05 Indrid Cold Some great acting, but wall-to-wall dialog is very hard to pull off. 3 stars
9/04/04 Em fantastic acting, change of direction midway through, unexpectedly touching 5 stars
11/03/03 joe smith awful. 1 stars
7/30/03 Jake Huge disappointment, wanted laughs but instead, got bad artistic CA nightmare of Cumming. 1 stars
6/01/03 francis An Hollywood introspective - but I'm just not interested in these screwed up people 3 stars
4/01/03 Jack Sommersby Solid and affecting. Flawlessly actedd and consistently interesting. Plus, Posey's BOOBIES! 4 stars
2/02/03 Charles Tatum I was totally into this 5 stars
12/21/02 C3PO they let any old asshole on here? 4 stars
4/16/02 Phil M. Aficiando Watch twice; great work (acting and filming); actors got into it completely 5 stars
4/01/02 Stephen Watch it more than once - it's amazing the 2nd time and tops the 3rd. First - blah. 5 stars
2/22/02 Jason This movie was god-awful Hollywood drivel! 1 stars
2/19/02 Pete Hepburn My Thumb is Up 4 stars
1/25/02 INCUBATOR Beautiful argue scene on the mountain 4 stars
10/22/01 Will Hay superb casting, acting. powerful atmos, great camerawork 5 stars
10/08/01 Mark Davidson Started off interesting, then melted into a mess. Too in love with itself. Paltrow miscast 3 stars
10/02/01 Rutegar Dupree Strong performances from an interesting cast. Seamless camerawork. Great soundtrack. 5 stars
8/02/01 skye edward albee, it ain't. but entertaining, none-the-less. 3 stars
7/29/01 landa wsesw 5 stars
7/11/01 kaitong12 every aspect of a great movie came together in this film - emotion, entertainment, satire.. 5 stars
7/02/01 Thor-Leo A complete pleasure. Cumming trying to play a straight man was the only sour note. 4 stars
6/30/01 ***Super Girl*** yep 1 stars
6/24/01 jake a morality play. sad commentary on the need to use drugs to enjoy one another's company. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  08-Jun-2001 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  18-Oct-2001




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