Sally Potter’s “The Party” is an atmospheric, rapid-fire dark comedy about a celebratory dinner party where unexpected revelations come as quickly as bon mots. With its sophisticated script and minimalist setting (the whole thing takes place nearly in real time, in just a couple of rooms), “The Party” has the feel of a play adapted for the big screen. The fact that the all-star cast includes powerhouse actresses Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Cherry Jones, and Emily Mortimer — all of whom can dominate a stage with the best of them — underlines that impression. Continue reading…
But Potter’s use of lush black and white cinematography and clever editing are distinctly cinematic. It all comes together around newly elected British politician Janet (Scott Thomas), who’s invited her nearest and dearest over for dinner to mark the end of her successful campaign. The guests include tart-tongued April (Clarkson) and her current paramour, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz); women’s studies professor Martha (Jones) and her pregnant partner, Jinny (Mortimer); and banker Tom (Cillian Murphy), the husband of Janet’s colleague Marianne, who’s running late. Also in attendance is Janet’s husband, Bill (Timothy Spall).
Almost as soon as the first guest walks in the door, secrets start emerging, with inevitable confrontations following. To say much more about the plot would be to give too much away; suffice to say that no one gets through the evening unscathed, whether physically or emotionally. And the ending is fabulous. Not that you’ll be in a particular hurry to get there, given how entertaining it is to watch the talented cast perform Potter’s rat-a-tat script (the speed and complexity of the dialogue are reminiscent of classic screwball comedies like “His Girl Friday”).
Truly, the talent on display here is an embarrassment of riches; it’s so refreshing to see capable, confident, seasoned actresses flourishing under the leadership of a capable, confident, seasoned writer/director. The fact that so many of “The Party”‘s characters are also powerful, strong (albeit significantly flawed) women really makes it something to celebrate. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Nell Minow: It’s in stunning black and white, but we imagine the shower of virtual crimson blood from the verbal rapier thrusts and real-life punches at this most savage of celebrations. What is intended to be a small gathering of close friends to congratulate the hostess on her important new cabinet position unfolds in real time as series of attacks, revelations, betrayals, and, yes, political metaphors. Brilliantly performed by some of the greatest actors from both sides of the Atlantic and written and directed with knowing, devastating impact by Sally Potter.
Susan Wloszczyna: And now for something completely different: The Party, a tidily caustic 71-minute politically-charged dark comedy. It conveys both the tense horror of attending most American familial holiday gatherings these days and the vicious bite of Mike Nichol’s version of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, down to a book-stacked middle-class abode and the classic black and white cinematography. A fox that creeps by open patio doors functions as a predictor — much like its cousin in Antichrist – that chaos will soon reign. Read full review
Marilyn Ferdinand: England’s unofficial anthem, “Jerusalem,” usually signals to moviegoers that they are about to see a tale of tradition, perseverance and stiff-upper-lipness for which the British are stereotypically famous. Veteran director/screenwriter Sally Potter’s use of the hymn to introduce her latest film, The Party, is strictly tongue-in-cheek as she pounces upon the pretensions of her country’s neoliberals and intelligentsia in what ends up being a farcical sex comedy. The all-star cast in this chamber piece include Kristin Scott Thomas as Janet, the country’s newly minted Minister of Health; Patricia Clarkson as April, her best friend and a former idealist turned “realist”; and Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer as a lesbian couple contemplating the pending arrival of artificially inseminated triplets. Timothy Spall, Bruno Ganz, and Cillian Murphy provide excellent support playing the dethroned kings of their castles as woman power does more than assert itself—it runs amok in this small comic gem. Read full review.
Nikki Baughan: It’s been five years since writer/director Sally Potter’s last film, 2012’s Ginger & Rosa but it’s certainly been worth the wait. With The Party, Potter brings her wry observational style to that most quintessentially English of things, the middle-class dinner party, and shines a light into the psychological crevices behind the genteel facade. As these cracks begin to widen with each new revelation, Potter’s astonishing cast, including Kristen Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy and Patricia Clarkson, ground the narrative twists with charming, natural performances that ensure this intimate, sharply funny chamber piece never descends into eccentricity or farce. Running the gamut from the deeply moving to the darkly humorous, The Party puts an entirely modern spin on the traditional British comedy of manners; that it’s filmed in black and white only adds to the stark intimacy which draws the viewer in.
MaryAnn Johanson: Sally Potter’s drawing-room comedy features one of the most remarkable female ensembles of recent vintage, not only some of the most amazing female actors working today — Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, and Cherry Jones — but a range of incredible characters. A lesser filmmaker might have been tempted to turn them into caricatures as a way to underscore the film’s brutal skewering of the anxieties and hypocrisies of well-off left-wingers. Instead, Potter — and the terrific cast — imbues them with deep humanity… which of course only serves to make that skewering all the more pointed. These are real(ish) women with real foibles, ones that will hit closer to home than they might have otherwise. (The male actors and their characters are pretty great, too.)
Anne Brodie: Sally Potter’s scathing social satire The Party, shot in black and white in three claustrophobic rooms is a gem, and thankfully short given the compression of nerves and tears and emotion. The writing, choreography and precision cinematography took a lot of planning to make everything seem natural, quite an accomplishment. Potter’s charged hour and ten minutes is bracing, highly entertaining, and deeply funny and sad. Read the full review.
Esther Iverem: In Sally Potter’s The Party, there is a delicious balance of humor and humanity as we watch a gathering of British intellectuals be undone by emotions. Shot in black-and-white, the intentional staginess acts to highlight scarcity in lives that appear at first to be full, comfortable and celebrated.
Jeanne Wolf: Don’t come to The Party expecting joie de vivre. A top flight cast led by Patricia Clarkson, Kristen Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall deliver a fast paced dose of witty barbs that may or may not be your cup of tea. Scott Thomas is a career politician inviting friends to celebrate her promotion. It quickly becomes evident that they have enough problems to make the champagne go flat. The dark humor is deliciously British as dark secrets are revealed and a shocking ending looms. Director Sally Potter keeps it all bubbling along in stark black and white which I guess you could say matches the mood.
Jennifer Merin Enigmatic and experimental as always, Sally Potter presents in THE PARTY a tightly interwoven tapestry covering the snappy interactions of seven distinctly quirky yet decidedly stereotypical Brits, two Americans and a German during the course of a celebratory supper party held in London. Shot in black and white, and often in close up, the film reveals every nuance and wrinkle in superb performances by Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Kristen Scott Thomas, Cilian Murphy, Emily Mortimer, Bruno Ganz and Cherry Jones. No spoilers. but the final shot is pure perfection!
Moira Sullivan: Sally Potter’s eighth feature The Party occupies a sitting room, kitchen, garden and bathroom populated by veteran actors Kristin Scott Thomas, Cherry Jones Cillian Murphy, Emily Mortimer, Timothy Spall and Patricia Clarkson. The skill of the dialogue in this sitting room drama written by the UK independent filmmaker moves the film forward but equally important are ten carefully selected songs that punctuate the gathering. These have significance for each of the scenes and are inseparable from the images. With the exception of a British anthem, the selections are recorded by international artists – arias, ballads, jazz and rhythm and blues, ska, and tango. Read the full review.
Kristen Page Kirby: The Party” is what would happen if “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” had more people, more cocaine and more firearms. It’s a whirlwind of barbs that range from underhandedly cruel to … well, just cruel, with some (brief) moments of human kindness peeking out. It’s a thrill to watch so many talented actors share such a small space, but Kristin Scott Thomas tops them all as a woman who just achieved a major political victory (yet still has to plan and cook for her own party). The stories are interwoven without becoming muddled and the action nearly nonstop without feeling overly frenetic. The only unsettling thing is seeing the relationships between the characters (the bulk of whom have clearly known one another for decades) and wondering why or whether they ever liked one another in the first place. Of course, any long-lasting relationship can become defined by unspoken resentments and under-the-breath mutterings — maybe the friends in The Party are now more like family.
Cate Marquis: Writer/director Sally Potter’s deliciously satiric dark comedy The Party features a sterling cast and smart, sharp dialog as a newly-elected British minister hosts a small gathering to celebrate a long-held ambition. Shot in a lush black and white, The Party is a sharp as a snapped towel and just as high energy. The splendid cast includes Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, and Cillian Murphy. As the champagne flows, startling relevations pop out, and what starts as celebration descends into debacle. Writer/director Potter makes the most of this talented cast, with smart, bitting dialog and a plot filled with fireworks. At a mere 71 minutes, THE PARTY packs in more dark humor than a dozen other parlor dramas. The Party is an invitation you should accept.
Cynthia Fuchs: What The Party does best is to expose your own efforts to interpret, to know, to be aware of what’s at stake. For as much as the characters on screen are fooled by their affiliations and disappointed by betrayals, they hang on to the very idea of parties and sides, generational or political, gendered or classed or sexed. They take sides with the hope of being saved, identified, and somehow committed. But your party can’t save you. It might consume you, though. Read full review.
Title: The Party
Directors: Sally Potter
Release Date: February 16, 2018
Running Time: 71 minutes
Screenwriter: Sally Potter
Distribution Company: Roadside Attractions
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferinand, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Esther Iverem, MaryAnn Johanson, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Kristen Page-Kirby, Danielle Solzman, Moira Sullivan, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf
Edited by Jennifer Merin