The Party, written and directed by Sally Potter (Orlando, The Man Who Cried), has been described as “a comedy wrapped around a tragedy” – and that is probably the perfect way to describe this mini-emotional rollercoaster of a film.
The film takes place over the course of just a few hours on one night, set entirely within the house of Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Bill (Timothy Spall). A group of close friends meet to celebrate Janet’s promotion, but as secrets between the guests are revealed, the evening quickly turns to chaos.
The Party’s cast, although a small band of only seven actors, is incredibly strong and made up of some very recognisable names. Scott Thomas is the accomplished, career-driven Janet whose personal life is wrought with scandal. Spall plays her husband, Bill, providing a good deal of the laughs in the first half of the film through a drunken stupor and penchant for inappropriate blues music that is revealed to have a much darker motivation.
Emily Mortimer and Cherry Jones provide the downward trajectory of the emotional rollercoaster as Jinny and Martha, a couple struggling through a messy relationship. Their moments together towards the end of the film are both very genuine and quite heartbreaking, and cut right through the humorous chaos going on in the rest of house around them.
The major comedic vehicles of The Party are Bruno Ganz at Gottfried, the German existentialist who insists on meditating mid-party, and Patricia Clarkson as April, Janet’s friend and confidant. Clarkson is in her element as the dry, sarcastic American guest, but while her witty one-liners are a refreshing break during the film’s slow start, they begin to lose effect when they turn out to be her character’s only trope.
For me, the stand out in an already excellent cast was Cillian Murphy, playing Tom – a coked-up banker who’s out for blood. Murphy brought a fantastic dynamism and energy that broke from the rest of the more reserved characters and helped the film to build, and provided both intense and amusing moments.
It’s tiny cast, singular setting and limited timeframe create an almost claustrophobic sense for both it’s characters and the audience. This works very well though, because it’s in this cramped space the comedy of this film really thrives. It’s a film that starts slow and builds gradually, reaching its comedic climax when each character becomes involved in separate but simultaneous conflicts. These moments overlap, creating an unexpected ending that is equal parts dark, frenzied and hopelessly funny.
The Party is relatively short with a runtime of only seventy-one minutes, but within this brief period Potter has managed to craft a simplistic yet engaging, character-driven story that continues to surprise and amuse the whole way through.
The Party is now showing as part of the Sydney Film Festival. Tickets available here.
Friday, 9 June: 9.20pm, The State Theatre
Wednesday, 14 June: 5pm, The State Theatre
Saturday, 17 June: 4.20pm, The Ritz Cinema Randwick