Like a real shindig, The Party takes a while to settle into a groove – but once the champagne is flowing and the blood hits the floor, it’s an absolute blast to laugh with Sally Potter as she mercilessly puts the liberal elite to task. There is nothing they won’t debate to ignore the actual problems at their door, and they are far more interested in latching onto the minutia of each other’s snide comments than actually addressing the issues at hand. The collapsing welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, whether it’s okay to call someone a Nazi – it’s easier to ruminate than to actually communicate, and Potter’s script builds to a head as relationships shatter and lives unravel.
Performances are outstanding across the board, although Patricia Clarkson steals the show with unparalleled viciousness. Her withering cynicism cuts through the film’s languorous tone, and her relationship with Kristin Scott Thomas feels authentic and lived-in.
While Sally Potter’s script swerves dangerously close to feeling overwritten, her sharp wit and tenacious prose keep the laughs coming. Her direction is crisp, and the choice to film in black and white feels perfectly matched to the overall style – as well as making the dynamite cast look like they’re carved from marble.
The idea of a wayward dinner party does wonders for building tension, but unfortunately threatens to undercut the whole endeavour. As guests fray under the pressure, the reasons anyone is keeping the dinner party going become increasingly ridiculous to the point of distraction. That doesn’t mean it’s not a rollicking good time though.
The second act drags as the central conceit buckles under scrutiny, but some brilliant set pieces in the final act – including a hilarious three-act joke involving Timothy Spall and a record player – keep the chuckles coming until the final credits.
CAST: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas
DIRECTOR: Sally Potter
WRITER: Sally Potter
SYNOPSIS: A comedy wrapped around a tragedy. It starts as a celebration and ends with blood on the ground.