Anniversary Party, The (2001) ***
Written and directed by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming.Photography, John Bailey. Editing, Carol Littleton and Suzanne Spangler. Music, Michael Penn. Cast: Alan Cumming (Joe Therrian), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Sally Therrian), John Benjamin Hickey (Jerry Adams), Parker Posey (Judy Adams), Phoebe Cates (Sophia Gold), Kevin Kline (Cal Gold), Owen Kline (Jack Gold), Greta Kline (Evie Gold), Mina Badie (Monica Rose), Jane Adams (Clair Forsyth), John C.Reilly (Mac Forsyth), Jennifer Beals (Gina Taylor), Gwyneth Paltrow (Skye Davidson), Denis O'Hare (Ryan Rose), Levi Panes (Michael Panes) and Karen Kilgariff (Karen).Produced by Joanne Sellar, Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh. A Fine Line release.115 minutes. Rated R.
Leigh and Cumming are a married couple. He is a Brit bisexual writer, she is an actress whose career is menaced. They have recently gotten back together after one year's separation. And to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary, they invite several friends (or "friends"?)--all in showbiz in one way or another, plus, for "political" reasons, next-door neighbors whom they have never seen but with whom they have been having a fight about a too-barking dog. The party is at the couple's modern, to-die-for home in the Hollywood Hills.
Leigh is on my list of best performers. This movie confirms it. It matters little that the film's basic set-up is not especially original. Once again we have motley people in a limited space. But, as in Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill," the participants are not too motley, since the hosts and most of the guests are, and play, Hollywoodian professionals.
In the course of the evening, an above-average number of extant, new or possible relationships, of home as well as "trade" problems, are touched upon and/or catalyzed as relatively sane or quirky or fairly sane people interact. Much of this is due to the lessening of inhibitions courtesy of the drug Ecstasy.
The film has documentary authenticity. When the performances (acting, dialogue, behavior, etc.) do ring false, they are in fact "real-life false" since showbiz people almost always act no matter who, what or where they are. Conclusion: we get faithfulness off-stage, in private lives. Their roles in this movie may or may not reflect personal experience, but even when they don't, they come from a milieu that the thespians, writers, directors, etc. are most familiar with.
It makes no difference to the audiences that certain parts or passages are improvised, or else pretend to be. The bottom line is convincing realism. If something looks or sounds phony, it is because it is that in life, when cameras are not running.
The movie has nothing that's radically fresh or unusual, just as most people --including film-persons-- seldom offer anything new. But what you see and hear is very well done --notably its satires.
Unlike some other movies I have seen recently and that were shot in digital video with murky results, the video here is pretty close to the traditional celluloid. It could even fool you into non-awareness of the digital process.