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USA 2001
Directed by
Alan Cumming / Jennifer Jason Leigh
115 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Anniversary Party

Synopsis: English bad boy novelist Joe (Alan Cumming) and his actress wife Sally (Jennifer Jason Leigh) have reunited after a separation and decide to throw a party in their Beverley Hills home to celebrate their sixth anniversary. The guest list includes the usual Hollywood types and the next door neighbours, who struggle to maintain their normality in this intense environment.

The Anniversary Party will be a fascinating outing for anyone interested in the people behind the characters we see in Hollywood movies. Not that this is a documentary, rather it's the converse, real actors playing actors who are not acting. And it's written by the two lead actors who also direct. Perhaps surprisingly, in both respects it's very well done (though the final act I think was somewhat misjudged and plot-wise there are some loose ends - the neighbours simply disappear from the narrative, for instance).

Imagine Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel without the artistic gravitas (to use a term used with mock seriousness in this film), relocated to a gaggle of talented but feckless thirty-somethings living in well-heeled idleness and fear of anonymity and you have some idea of what Cumming and Leigh have created. Shot in four weeks on video (a superb job by photographer John Bailey who mercifully spares us the usual wobbling hand-held effects) this is a great job of scripting (though one presumes quite a bit of extemporizing went on) and has excellent performances by all concerned, some of whom are more recognizable than others.

The audience gets both the enjoyment of the fictional story and the antics of its characters and then, at another level the frisson of a voyeuristic, behind-the-scenes experience (for example, Kevin Kline appears with his real-life-wife Phoebe Cates and their children and there are various tongue-in-cheek digs at directors and actors). Of course it's too slick to be real but it is entertaining. Or at least I found it so. I can imagine others may find it narcissistic (it opens and closes with the close ups of Cumming and Leigh whom) or worse, simply boring. If you're one of those people who can't remember actors names or what movies they've been in, this'll probably be the case. But then you wouldn't be reading this would you?

FYI: The house that provides the film's sole location was designed by Richard Neutra and is owned by Sofia Coppola. The only scene not shot digitally was the underwater pool scene and it cost as much to shoot as the entire rest of the film.




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