A woman opens the door to her London townhouse and points a gun toward her visitor. A little over an hour earlier, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) was in an entirely different frame of mind, fresh off winning a Parliamentary seat as Shadow Minister for Health in the opposition party and gathering a tight knit group of friends to celebrate at "The Party."
In just over 70 minutes, writer/director Sally Potter ("Orlando," "Ginger & Rosa") establishes a situation, introduces 8 characters, then, with one sentence, changes everything. Her writing is sharp, her ensemble delicious, her humor cutting. This black and white film (shot by Potter's long time cinematographer Alexey Rodionov) is like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" times two.
One of those characters, Mary Ann, is never seen. She's the wife of Tom (Cillian Murphy), the 'ridiculously handsome' 'wanker banker' whose arrival gives Janet's tart friend April (Patricia Clarkson) a case of the sniffs. Tom has a more pressing, literal case as he quickly heads to the lavatory to snort a few lines. Janet's husband Bill (Timothy Spall), an academic, sits in the living room, downbeat, seemingly not as pleased about his wife's success as everyone else. He focuses his attention on Scotch and his decidedly eclectic record collection, attended to by April's partner Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a new agey life coach April shows nothing but condescension towards. Martha (Cherry Jones) is a colleague of Bill's whose relationship with the much younger Jinny (Emily Mortimer), a Top Chef 'runner up,' is in crisis due to her pregnancy with triplets.
As Janet 'pulls a Thatcher' in the kitchen by 'proving she can still whip up a canape,' she coos on the phone to someone clearly not her husband. As Martha and Jinny argue in the garden, only we seem to notice Tom's increasing mania as he creeps out by the garbage bin deciding whether to abandon a hand gun. Then Bill makes a a gravitational force of an announcement, one which gathers everyone for Potter's second act.
Potter directs her cast like a well oiled machine made up of disparate bits. Clarkson's biting performance is abetted by the funniest lines ('tickle an aromatherapist and you'll find a fascist'), her undercutting of Cherry's defense of Ganz a highlight ('You're a first class lesbian and a second rate thinker'). Scott Thomas has the film's biggest arc and plays it to perfection, initially bubbly as a young girl, eventually biting her arm in anguish. Murphy is so jeeped up, it's a miracle he's still in his skin at film's close.
An economic production all shot in one studio built set is the perfect background for Potter's insane escalation. Potter and music supervisor Matt Biffa ("Harry Brown") have created a ninth character in Bill's record collection, LP selections increasingly hilarious as they comment on the action. "The Party" may not make a deep and lasting impression, but it is a fast and fleet treat.
Robin did not see this film.
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