The Party is a Minimalist Gem

The Party  (2017)
Written and Directed by Sally Potter
Picturehouse Entertainment, 71 minutes, R (language, drug use, sex talk)

A politician, a cynic, a banker, a sick man, a guru, and two lesbians go to a party. Waiting for the punch line? How about a punch in the gut instead? Welcome to the latest project by writer/director Sally Potter, one of the more inventive minds in contemporary British film. In a taut 71 minutes you will be treated to a dramatic comedy that redefines the word acidic.

This tart black-and-white offering is really more of a play than a film, but that’s all you’ll need to see how far top-drawer actors can take a sparse script and a stripped down set. All of the action—most of it verbal jousting—takes place in the home of Janet (Kristin Scott-Thomas), who is holding a party to celebrate an electoral victory that promises to catapult her to the top of the Parliamentary heap.

If you think you’ve ever assembled an incompatible guest list, you’re probably a rank amateur compared to Janet. Her closest friend, April (Patricia Clarkson), is on hand, though doesn’t believe elections can change a damn thing. She comes with current boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) in tow. He’s a New Age lifestyle coach who rockets between wisdom and hollow platitudes, all the while smiling through April’s razor-wire insults. Tom (Cillian Murphy) shows up, but where is his partner Marianne, Janet’s top aide? And why is Tom as nervous as a caffeinated rabbit? At least he’s animated, which is more than can be said for Janet’s husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), who’s practically catatonic. The party is rounded out by a May-December lesbian couple, Jinny (Emily Mortimer), a topnotch chef who is also pregnant; and her considerably older and more serious partner, Martha (Cherry Jones), a women’s study professor. What could possibly go wrong with a jolly crew such as this?

The only one really in her element is April. The insults and cynicism fly in ways that make Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? seem like a therapy session. It’s just what you’d expect from a roomful of incompatibles holding onto secrets that are about to see harsh light of day.

What a script! What acting! Kudos to Potter for writing such fast-paced and biting dialogue, and huzzahs to Scott-Thomas for her role as a bundle of expertise and self-control that’s about to unravel. As astonishing as she is, Clarkson steals the show in a performance that rightly won her Best Supporting Actress honors at the British Independent Film Awards. Her April has long ago lost her innocence and idealism; even her “kind” remarks strike like a stiletto in the back and a knee to the groin. And let’s throw another bouquet to Sally Potter for packing so much into just 71 minutes, for trusting her audience, and for having the smarts to assemble amazing actors who can squeeze profundity from roles that would lack credibility coming from actors plucked from the next drawer down.

Rob Weir    

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