Directed by Sally Potter
The Party is one of those dinner party movies in which everyone starts off chic, civilized and egocentric, and by the end they will be humbled, humiliated and return in some sense to a more primal state of being. As the havoc of The Party plays out, characters will question their own ideologies and those of the people around them who, they discover, they might not really know so well. The main argument here is that in the face of certain challenges, conflicts and human follies all logic and grand staging goes out the window, replaced by something like a survival instinct.
And that’s kind of funny, I suppose, that these types of dinner party movies often boil down to simple survival, whether literally as in Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962) or more recently Coherence (2014) and The Invitation (2015), or something more symbolic like with The Celebration (1998). This has become its own subgenre, a thriller in which there is some kind of game to be played. That could be an Agatha Christie-like murder mystery (Gosford Park) or a labyrinth in which the dinner guests find themselves stuck.
There is an idea that this dinner party will be the turning point in all of their lives, a simple gathering at first that often turns out to have more sinister means. There might be revenge on the mind of some, a long plan which culminates in this aesthetically pleasing evening. Then the sh*t hits the fan.
Or it might be something supernatural that reaches into their dining room and shakes something loose inside of them, turning a mundane, pleasant evening into a sci-fi film with more in common with Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing.
And then you have a movie like The Party in which there is no real overarching plan for revenge, though one wild card in the bunch does stumble in with copious amounts of cocaine and a loaded handgun. But his plan is anything but thought through, and it’s more of an appetizer to the evening at hand than the main course.
The characters here will spill the truth in some form or another. There are a series of affairs, a pregnancy announcement, a terminal diagnosis, the aforementioned coke and the handgun, and as well there is a guru who just kind of sits back and comments on the lot of them. They are all equally unprepared for the night at hand. There is no grand master, no supernatural force, just a bunch of flawed people struggling more than we realize to hold it together in the first place.
The movie is brief, only about 80 minutes if that, and it seems to take place all in real time. We never actually do see them sit down for a meal. Instead they gather, drink a little and make snide comments here and there before, almost inevitably, certain truths are divulged. They begin with good news, that Jinny and Martha (Emily Mortimer, Cherry Jones) are expecting triplets. Before this the group had gathered to celebrate Janet’s (Kristen Scott Thomas) promotion in the British government. But then her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) tells them he is dying, and soon after he declares his intention to spend his remaining days with another woman, the wife of the coked-out gun-toting Tom (Cillian Murphy). Tom came by only to try and psych himself up to kill Bill.
Along for the ride are April and Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz), married but not for much longer. They are there to give questionable advice to those suffering from current breakdowns. April, for example, suggests (perhaps jokingly) that Janet could kill her husband in response to news of his affair. What she doesn’t realize is that Janet, at this point in time, has already found Tom’s discarded gun and has in mind to use it on someone.
So things go from bad to worse quite quickly, but because of that sudden bottoming out there is room for growth. Tom learns that he doesn’t want to kill Bill, with a little help from Gottfried, and Jinny and Martha attempt to work through their own sudden marital turbulence.
The dinner party acts as an intervention for all of them, something necessary and sudden which shakes them out of their stupor and undercuts just about all of their high-minded ideas about themselves, the people around them and the world at large. For what does any of that matter if you can’t bear to look at the person across from you or the person in the mirror? The guests of The Party will get reacquainted with something deeper within themselves, like someone learning to walk again, but not everyone will walk back out the front door when all is said and done.
Up Next: Permanent Green Light (2018), Vanishing Point (1971), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)