The Anniversary Party
The Anniversary Party is a true rarity: a film that fails on every conceivable level.
The Anniversary Party is a true rarity: a film that fails on every conceivable level. What comes as a surprise is that it’s conceived by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming, two of the more interesting actors on the fringes of Hollywood. The Anniversary Party unfortunately proves that these actors are infinitely more interesting when they’re spouting somebody else’s dialogue. Their debut directorial effort shows them up to be petty, self obsessed, pretentious and wholly unpleasant – just like the Hollywood image that they’d long been an antidote to. This film isn’t just crushingly bad, it’s also disappointingly revealing of its two main players.
After a yearlong separation, Hollywood players Sally (Leigh) and Joe (Cumming) get back together, and then invite some of their closest friends around to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. For the rest of the film they play charades, drop ecstasy, “discover themselves” and basically act like dickheads.
Allegedly inspired by the European Dogma movement (characterised in raw, straight-from-the-gut films like The Idiots and Festen), Leigh and Cumming shot their film on high-definition video on a tight budget and a short schedule. Apart from these surface similarities, however, the filmmakers have basically made a bitch of the Dogma movement, stripping it of its arresting primal force and tarting it up like a cheap punk. They bend it to their own ends, and tell a story of brain deadening self-indulgence – this is a character study where the characters are the type of people that you wouldn’t cross the street to piss on if they were burning to death, let alone want to watch in a movie. It’s this very failure to provide a story and set of characters who are neither fascinatingly nasty or in some way connected to the real world that proves that Leigh and Cumming have no idea about telling a story or making a film. The fact that they thought anyone else would care about their soulless, self absorbed existence shows a total lack of self awareness and a frightening hubris. Appalling.
When Jennifer Jason Leigh and the British actor Alan Cumming worked together on the successful revival of Cabaret on Broadway, a creative collaboration was born. Together they wrote, produced, directed and starred in The Anniversary Party, shot in 19 days on digital video with a small group of close friends. The party concerned is to celebrate the 6th wedding anniversary of Sally and Joe. She`s an actress, insecure because her career is plateauing, he`s a British novelist who`s just got a green light to direct the adaptation of his latest novel in which he`s just cast the young star Skye Davidson, Gwyneth Paltrow. On this particular day and night their friends gather - maturing star Cal, Kevin Kline and his wife Sophia, Kline`s real life wife Phoebe Cates who`s giving up acting to raise the children. Their business managers, Parker Posey and John Benjamin Hickey, the director of Sally`s current film, John C. Reilly and his wife Jane Adams suffering from newborn separation anxiety. And they also invite the neighbours, Dennis O`Hare and Mina Badie hoping to get over difficulties caused by their dog. Shot by veteran cinematographer John Bailey on 3 digital cameras and despite the fact that it looks fine you can tell it`s been shot on video. This film is very well written, extraordinarily well performed, with a reality created by the fact that Leigh and Cumming used their knowledge of the cast to create believable characters. There are some interesting insights into parenting, that`s for sure. It`s terrifically enjoyable, with Jennifer Jason-Leigh doing her best work on screen in ages.
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