The idea of the dinner party that goes horribly wrong has served as the premise to any number of versatile, genre-spanning narratives over the years. Written and directed by Sally Potter, "The Party" offers little to break the mold of what's come before, but thanks to a first-rate cast it still manages to be a reasonably entertaining, sharp-tongued farce of love, class, and politics.
The film begins as a group of friends gather together for a dinner party at the London home of Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) on the occasion of her recent appointment to a high-profile government position. While Janet busies herself in the kitchen, her professor husband Bill (Timothy Spall) sets about drinking himself into a stupor before the guests even begin to arrive.
First through the door is caustic April (Patricia Clarkson) and her New Age-y German husband Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), whom she seems to despise. Next comes docile academic Martha (Cherry Jones), whose more high-strung wife, Jinny (Emily Mortimer), has just found out she's pregnant with triplets. Finally, there's Tom (Cillian Murphy) a coke-snorting financer who at first seems somewhat out of place amongst the rest of the attendees.
It's soon apparent that this world-class collection of narcissists are each hoarding secrets that they're just dying to get off their chests. Bringing them together is a recipe for disaster, and the inevitable parade of revelations are all it takes for the group's mask of bourgeois civility to come crashing down as they start to unravel one by one.
A barbed comedy of manners, "The Party" is reminiscent of Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game" or Yasmina Reza's "God Of Carnage" (as well as its 2011 film adaptation). It's unabashedly theatrical, with the rough around the edges, lo-fi vibe of a 90's indie. Shot in clean, crisp black and white by Russian cinematographer AlekseiRodionov, the film makes great use of the enclosed spaces in which the characters find themselves.
Each one of the veteran performers commit to their roles with gusto. They work well together, selling the hell out of the material even if the script's Brexit-era political commentary and social satire can be ham-fisted. The characters have a tendency to blurt things out when it's convenient, and without much in the way of motivation, so the dialogue never comes across as anything resembling what a real living human being would ever say. But at a spry 71 minutes, the film is snappy enough that there's never much time to dwell on its faults.
Still, "The Party" is surprisingly slight compared to what one expects from Potter, whose filmography is peppered with formally daring gambits like her adaptation of Virginia Woolf's gender-bending "Orlando," and "Yes," a romantic drama told entirely in iambic pentameter.
"The Party" is the kind of soirée that's fun enough while it lasts, but that you find yourself struggling to recall the next day.