5 September 2002 | jhclues
It's Party Time, Hollywood Style
This film pulls back the curtain to reveal a glimpse of what `celebrity' means when the cameras aren't rolling and the stage is dark. What begins as a celebration of sorts becomes a character study that examines the lifestyle of the self-absorbed and those driven by ego, and we get to see the people behind the `fame.' And while on one hand `The Anniversary Party,' written and directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, appears at first to be the kind of party you could find at anyone's house at any time in any place, subtle differences begin to surface that separates it from what could be considered the `norm.' Because beyond certain corporate similarities, the entertainment industry is quite unlike any other, and that goes especially for the people who inhabit it. Sure, actors, writers, directors, etc. are people, just like anyone else, but their particular perceptions and priorities necessarily shift them into a unique position within the landscape of the human condition, wherein they exist amongst their own and for the most part play the game by their own rules. This is a generalization, of course; not every actor or artist lives in the style depicted in this film, but many do. In the final analysis, Hollywood is not called `La-La Land' for no reason, and Cumming and Leigh know it. Welcome to a world in which anything is acceptable, anything goes, and usually does.
Writer/director Joe Therrian (Cumming) and actress Sally Nash (Leigh) have prepared a party to celebrate their six years together; not that they have actually been `together' the entire time, but according to the actor/artist math, it's close enough. Close friends and associates have been invited to share whatever this is with them, as well as a couple of neighbors, Monica and Ryan Rose (Mina Badie, Denis O'Hare), who have certain `issues' with Joe and Sally. And, much to the chagrin of the `aging' Sally, whose career seems to be on the wane, Joe has invited the hot young up-and-comer in town, Skye Davidson (Gwyneth Paltrow) to the party. As the evening wears on into the early morning hours, true feelings are gradually revealed amid a game of charades (rather, a `production' of charades; these people are forever `on'), as well as the sharing of a certain `product' given as a present to Joe and Sally by Skye. And so, what began as a celebration, in the cold, hard light of morning just may be remembered as something entirely different. Welcome to the wonderful world of show biz.
The daughter of actor Vic Morrow, Jennifer Jason Leigh was born into the business, so to speak; Alan Cumming, on the other hand will have to come up with his own excuse. But they have collaborated (perhaps `conspired' would be more accurate) to bring to the screen an interesting, thought provoking story that for all intents and purposes seems, at least, as if it could be a composite of actual experiences and people they have known. Which means they've succeeded in delivering a film that has the decided flavor of reality about it, and for the most part it's extremely engaging, and often riveting drama. it may be a film that many will have trouble connecting with, though, if only because it is bound to fall outside the realm of personal experience for them. Most of the issues in this story are simply unfamiliar territory to the greater part of the world's population, with the exception of those dealing with the more universal themes, like the appreciation of a child's song, or the irritation of the perpetual barking of a neighbor's dog.
What really sells the project, though, and maintains interest, is the excellent ensemble cast the filmmakers have assembled here, portraying an inordinate number of characters driven by look-at-me! egos, yet each presented within their own unique perspectives and contexts. At the center of the fray, of course, is Cumming and Leigh, each of whom do a solid job of anchoring the myriad situations and scenarios generated through, by and around them. Leigh successfully conveys a sense of insecurity consistent with Sally's current status, and Cumming does a good job of making Joe quite unlikable, affecting as he does the look, attitude and personality born of an overblown and bloated ego. it's a portrayal that effectively points up the absolute boorishness that can be found within this community.
Paltrow, meanwhile, perfectly captures the essence of the shallow and relatively clueless ingenue, the vast majority of whom become a flavor of the week before disappearing into the obscurity of Hollywood's human `outbox.' While Phoebe Cates, as former actress Sophia Gold, represents the opposite end of the spectrum, a young woman perfectly content with her current role of wife and mother. And Kevin Kline is convincing as her husband, actor Cal Gold, who though successful is still visited with insecurities and doubt; and his performance is one of the highlights of the film.
Also turning in performances that stand out from the rest are Mina Badie (Leigh's real life half-sister) as the neighbor who comes to the party offering conciliatory overtures toward a more `neighborly' relationship; John C. Reilly, as Mac Forsyth, a veteran director struggling with his latest project (the star of which just happens to be Sally Nash); and Peter Sellers look alike Michael Panes, as Sally's talented friend, Levi.
Rounding out the exceptional cast are Jane Adams (Clair), John Benjamin Hickey (Jerry), Parker Posey (Judy), Jennifer Beals (Gina), Matt Malloy (Sanford) and Owen Kline and Greta Kline (Kevin and Phoebe's real life children, as Jack and Evie Gold). A film that is more interesting than entertaining, `The Anniversary Party' nevertheless offers the viewer a chance to vicariously explore and experience Tinsel Town from the dark side of the curtain; some will find it exciting, while others will deem it decidedly unglamorous. Either way, Cumming and Leigh are to be commended for making it `real.' It's the magic of the movies. 7/10.