The Anniversary Party (2001) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language, drug use, nudity and sexual situations
Running Time: 115 min.

Cast: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Jane Adams, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Beals, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline, Parker Posey
Director: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Screenplay: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Review published January 5, 2004

It's sort of a poor man's Big Chill, complete with Kevin Kline (The Emperor's Club, Wild Wild West), in this multi-character piece reportedly shot entirely with DV cameras in 19 days, with roles written specifically for the friends of writer-director-stars Cumming (X2, GoldenEye) and Leigh (Road to Perdition, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) .  It's a rough production, with far heavier leanings toward experimentation than narrative, which proves to be the double-edged sword.  It's refreshing to see so many stars past and present together, clearly having a good time with each other, and being showcased in their strongest suits.  On the other hand, it appears that Cumming and Leigh might have become too enamored of seeing their friends in their movie, as this film is padded to excess with quaint but wholly unnecessary moments that bog the film down to a sloth-like crawl long before it gets to the merciful end. 

Cummings and Leigh are Joe and Sally, a celebrity couple celebrating their sixth anniversary in their very rocky marriage.  Although they do love each other, tensions between the two set in regarding the casting of the film adaptation of Joe's latest bestselling book, as Sally think she would be the natural woman for the role, since she believes it is based on her.  However, Sally's career is on the decline, as her acting chops are seen as an embarrassment in her most recent efforts, no longer able to get by on her looks alone.  With feelings raw, their closest friends are all coming over in celebration of their continued union, but will their marriage survive another night?

Perhaps the strongest quality of The Anniversary Party comes from the very gutsy acting, particularly in the final scenes by the two leads, who arguably deliver some of the best performances in their careers.  Curiously, while there may be cast chemistry among the friends in the production, the pairings of the actors lead to some awkward moments.  The relationship between Cumming and Leigh just doesn't feel natural, and neither do any of the others in the rest of the cast for that matter.  For a film about the love between man and woman, as well as among friends, there is a definite lack of gelling in the characterizations, no doubt further crippled by the fact that there are so many characters to keep track of in a short amount of time.  Further exasperation for viewers occurs when some characters end up in the film having never been introduced at all, distracting enjoyment from the tale in trying to figure out who these people are and where they all came from.

In the end, The Anniversary Party just might show enough talent and flair for viewers who enjoy solid acting and nebulous independent features that delight with bells and whistles, despite the lack of authenticity at the core.  Fans of any of the stars will likely enjoy seeing some of them let their hair down for a bit. Alas, the production runs out of gas as it approaches the final half hour, which is filled with the usual bits of soul-searching angst we've grown accustomed to from films about decadent parties full of vacuous people.  It's a self-indulgent, voyeuristic look into the lives of Hollywood couples, but in the end the only realization to be made is that our favorite talents are far more interesting when playing fictitious roles or crafting artifice than in their petulant ego-tripping.  Reality has rarely seemed so artificial.       

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo