Like the outstanding Longtime Companion, Randal Kleiser's It's My Party shows what happens as AIDS rips apart a tight-knit circle of friends both gay and straight. The disease is claiming the life of the leader of their pack, a charismatic architect named Nick (Eric Roberts), and the experience is life-changing for all who know him.
Given just a few days to live (a rather contrived Dark Victory-style setup but one that is apparently based on a true story), Nick decides to commit suicide rather than suffer at the end the way so many of his AIDS-afflicted friends have. But before he goes, he decides to throw a two-day party to which he will invite all his friends, hand out parting gifts, and say goodbye with laughs and drinks rather than with tears and sadness.
And what a group. His best buddy Charlene (Margaret Cho), married pals Lina (Olivia Newton-John) and Rodney (Bruce Davison), and their gay son Andrew (Devon Gummersall) all arrive. Even his mother (an excellent Lee Grant) and his deaf sister Daphne (Marlee Matlin) are there, and later on his estranged father (George Segal) arrives as well. Keeping the mood light is Monty (Bronson Pinchot), an ultrabitchy manager prone to witticisms such as an offhand comment he makes to Nick: "I see you haven't lost your sense of tumor."
The big question: will Nick's ex-lover, movie director Brandon (Gregory Harrison), show up? Flashbacks show us their passionate relationship and its demise a year earlier, when the uptight and partially closeted Brandon could no longer tolerate Nick's wild ways and wilder friends. After their ugly breakup, the two haven't spoken, but in this moment of crisis, Brandon knows he must come, even if he's pretty much unwelcome.
The crowd gathers, drinks are served, and the mood fluctuates wildly but naturally from black humor to despair. Some can't believe this is actually happening. Mom is paralyzed with fear and tries cooking as a way of steadying her nerves. After the impromptu slumber party is over, Nick's final day arrives, the goodbyes pick up speed, and his suicide plan goes into effect. It's thrilling and chilling. In the final moments, Lee Grant's primal maternal scream will give you shivers.
It's My Party is an outstanding ensemble effort, with plenty of laughter, drama, and pathos to go around. Watch Kleiser's long tracking takes and he moves the camera indoors and out, through room after room, dropping in and out of conversations. The commentary reveals just how hard it was for him to pull this labor of love together, shooting around his large cast's schedules and trying to maintain continuity of everything from wardrobe to the length of burning candles over a period of more than a year. Roberts and Harrison really shine (this is one of Roberts' few really human performances), and the supporting cast gives effortless, almost improv-like performances, too. It's a powerful experience.
It's my party and I'll watch Three's Company if I want to.