When I make plans for a dinner party, I know that the potential for something going wrong is fairly high. I’ll probably drop the dip, spill a drink, or set fire to someone. What I don’t expect is for everything to go so catastrophically sideways that nobody who attends will ever be the same again. Such is the case for the host and guests of the titular party in The Party.
From its first shot, it’s clear that The Party is going to treat us to some unhinged characters. There’s an old rule that once a gun has been seen in a story, it has to be used.
Things are going well for career politician Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas, Four Weddings and a Funeral). Having just learned of her promotion to Shadow Minister for Health, Janet prepares the food for a celebratory dinner party. While she busies herself in the kitchen, she’s occasionally distracted by a string of increasingly erotic text messages she’s exchanging with a mysterious someone.
Meanwhile, her husband Bill (Timothy Spall, the Harry Potter series) listens to records and drinks wine alone in the adjacent room, staring into space and oblivious to his wife’s adultery. Then the guests begin to arrive and by the end of the night, it’s not just the vol-au-vents that will be up in flames.
With all characters on stage, director Sally Potter (Orlando, Ginger & Rosa) begins to play with her puppets. They are a disparate group of people. The type of friends who have grown apart in lifestyle but remain friends.
As the evening begins, each character begins to unpick the faults of their friends and partners, while revealing the gaping blind spots when it comes to noticing their own faults. It sounds depressing, I know. But it’s not. These faults are instead used as fuel for ridiculous hilarity.
Because of their blind spots and vices, each character is painfully relatable. Though the party itself descends into slapstick silliness, the events remain all the more believable for how Potter forces us to empathize with each attendee. We’re forced to find links to our own digressions and secrets.
Shot in black and white, the whole movie takes place in Janet and Bill’s house and garden. The setting has the feel of a stage play, but Potter’s direction allows us the luxury of close-ups and awkward angles to elicit the best from her performers. The acting is excellent. There’s no other word for it. Each character has been cast in such a way as to nod to their previous roles, yet their skill is such that they do something wholly different in this movie. I fell in love with each of them all the more for their terrible flaws.
A black comedy with class, The Party reveals an uncomfortable truth: No matter how grand our accomplishments, no matter how stable our lives seem, it really doesn’t take much to see it all tumble down.