Sally Potter’s latest film “The Party”, which received the Guild Film Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival early in last year, is a little enjoyable experience to be savored and appreciated. While it simply puts several various characters into one limited space and then observes what happens among them during their one eventful evening, the movie constantly generates engaging moments as smoothly going back and forth between comedy and drama, and it is also strongly supported by its small group of talented cast members, who frequently provide something interesting to watch and observe throughout its short running time (71 minutes).
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Janet, a prominent British politician who receives a good news when she is preparing for a small evening meeting for several friends of hers. She has just been selected as the new minister of the Ministry of Health, and she is certainly happy to hear this wonderful news, but her professor husband Bill (Timothy Spall) does not seem to be cheered up much by another success in his wife’s distinguished political career. Simply sitting down on a chair in the living room, he pensively looks outside as his wife continues to prepare for the upcoming evening meeting, and we come to sense that there is some problem in his relationship with Janet.
Meanwhile, April (Patricia Clarkson) and her current boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) come to Janet’s house. As your average cynical realist, April gives Janet some barbed congratulation, but it is apparent that she and Janet have maintained a good friendship between them despite their different viewpoints on life and politics. While Janet still remains to be an idealist with a strong belief on making a better society, April does not believe much in the bureaucratic system of the government, though she still supports her friend as before.
In case of Janet and Bill’s mutual friend Martha (Cherry Jones) and her younger wife Jinny (Emily Mortimer), they announce their happy news not long after they arrive in Janet’s house. Through in vitro fertilization (IVF), Jinny gets successfully pregnant, and it turns out that she is bearing no less than three babies in her womb. While she expects that her relationship with Jinny will be more solidified through the birth of their babies, Martha is rather uncertain about their future, and that later leads to a small personal conflict between them after Jinny comes to know more about Martha’s past.
When Tom (Cillian Murphy) arrives at last, he is not accompanied with his wife, who has incidentally worked under Janet for years. While he looks quite agitated for some reason, he instantly goes to a bathroom alone for inhaling cocaine, and it also turns out that he has a gun, which is already shown to us during the brief opening shot of the film.
Once everything is set in its small place, Potter’s screenplay begins to throw one comic situation after another. When Bill reveals a bad news he recently received, the mood surely becomes sad and depressing for a while, but then there comes another unexpected moment of revelation, and, to our amusement, that moment is followed by more things to be exposed and revealed.
As its supposedly sophisticated characters struggle with their difficult matters of heart, the movie cheerfully presents a series of arguments among them, and Potter effectively utilizes various pieces of music for maximum comic/dramatic effects. I like how the movie sardonically uses “What Is This Thing Called Love” and “My One and Only Live”, and I could not help but amused by how Henry Purcell’s “When I Am Laid in Earth (Dido’s Lament)” is hilariously used during one darkly humorous moment later in the film.
And the main cast members are all fabulous in their respective roles. Kristin Scott-Thomas ably handles her character’s different emotional states along the narrative of the film, and her edgy performance is well matched by the deliciously acerbic performance by Particia Clarckson, who throws her numerous sarcastic lines with considerable gusto while maintaining well her deadpan appearance. Cherry Jones, whom drew my attention for the first time via her Emmy-winning supporting turn in the seventh season of TV series “24”, and Emily Mortimer, a wonderful British actress who has steadily advanced since her touching performance in “Dear Frankie” (2004), are also solid as holding their own small places, and they are particularly good when their characters happen to get a chance to be more honest to each other.
Compared to their female co-performers, the male cast members of the movie have less juicy moments, but they are equally good on the whole. While Timothy Spall, who has always been good at playing unhappy and miserable characters, is excellent when his character reluctantly admits a personal secret hidden from Janet, Bruno Ganz, a dependable Swiss actor who has mainly been known for his unforgettable performances in “Wings of Desire” (1987) and “Downfall” (2004), somehow makes his seemingly goofy character sort of endearing, and Cillian Murphy, who has been always compelling since his breakthrough turns in “Batman Begins” (2005) and “Breakfast on Pluto” (2005), conveys well his character’s growing agitation to us.
Overall, “The Party” succinctly accomplishes its goal without any unnecessary element, and it surely delivers enough comic/dramatic impact in the end as announced from the very beginning. In short, this is another interesting work from Potter, and I am now reminded that I should check out more of her previous works as soon as possible.