The Anniversary Party Movie Review

I have long admired Jennifer Jason Leigh for her courage in the face of critical adversity, cheering every mumble in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, clinging for dear life to the screwed warble-songs of Georgia. Sadly, "The Ballad of Jenny" went askew this year when she decided to continue her particular Brand X of raw performance, churning out snarly but predictably intense perfs in The King is Alive and her own co-directed The Anniversary Party.

Along for the ride, helping her pen this Party of lovey-dovey actors in a disgruntled group hug, is none other than her Cabaret co-star, Alan Cumming. Together, they're a force to be reckoned with: the crème de la crème of indulgence. Playing a bisexual writer and an aging starlet who never won an Academy Award, they are in effect exorcising their jitters toward an unsuspecting audience. Whether you're willing to go along for the ride is entirely up to you, but this critic found it to be deadly dull. Too much poisoned ice cream will give you a headache.

Watching actors talk about their lives is like listening to rock musicians wank off about aesthetics. Put simply, who's in the mood to listen to that shit? Furthermore, Cumming's smirking and Leigh's secretive slow burns only lead to one place: Disaster. This Hollywood couple (meaning the characters in their movie, Joe and Sally), throws their sixth anniversary party for their actor and director friends. They talk their talk, they do their drugs, some of 'em get naked and jump in the pool, and in the end they scream and yell in over-ripe monologues about trust, love, and commitment.

Just when you think someone's about to shout, "What about the baby?" they do. Of course they do! What about the offscreen drug addict sister -- what's to become of her? Tragedy is the mother of drama, and welcome to the meal because these actor-filmmakers are gonna ram it down your throat. Open wide, now!

Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates are really married -- so why not cast them as a married couple? Cates hasn't acted in a few years, so how about a few wry comments from her on leaving the game behind? Toss in some Shakespeare for Kline to keep him happy. Oh, and what about their kids? They have two kids! I know -- cast them in the movie, too! (Incidentally, the dance number Kline does with his little girl is the highlight of the party, oddly endearing and sad.)

Let's see -- what other friends do we have? Leigh acted with John C. Reilly in Georgia, which was a great supporting role. He plays a director teetering on the brink of a great failure, so that gives him ample opportunity to emote. Jane Adams, so freaky as the neurotic sister in Happiness, enters some terrain of gawkiness heretofore unknown as Reilly's loopy wife. She goes topless for at least half an hour, cuz that's what serious actors do!

Parker Posey is less bitchy than usual, which is a nice change. She's an agent or something, stuffed in a conservative shell that's cracking around the seams. Gwyneth Paltrow plays a Dumb Movie Star. Jennifer Beals plays a photographer who mothers Cumming, but her role proves so unnecessary she's absent for vast amounts of screen time, which is perhaps all for the best.

I have run down the laundry list of talent who show up for Leigh and Cumming's party. Hopefully, they had good fun making this movie. One mostly wishes the Cumming/Leigh tag team had selected a more imaginative cinematographer who could move beyond the steady medium shot once in a while. At least then there'd be the illusion that something were actually happening besides a lot of Lee Strasberg musings in full effect. You can't blame actors for wanting to emote, but this sort of movie makes one yearn for the stylized notes hit by Hal Hartley, where no one cries or smiles. Buster Keaton, where are you?

Cry if you want to.


Comments

The Anniversary Party Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2001

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