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Movie review: Unlikable characters spoil comic drama 'The Party'
Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall in The Party." - photo by Josh Terry
THE PARTY 1 stars Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy; R (language and drug use); Broadway

The Party is the kind of event you wouldnt want to attend, or in this case, watch. Its a shame to see so many first-rate actors stuck in an assortment of unlikable roles.

Sally Potters The Party is an ensemble piece about a dysfunctional group of friends and associates who gather to celebrate Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), whose new position in British parliamentary government is a sign of big things to come.

Everyone seems thrilled for her except for Janets brooding husband Bill (Timothy Spall), who spends most of the film staring into the middle-distance in a catatonic state in between trips to the living room stereo to switch records.

Im Bill, he says vacantly, I think I used to be.

At first, we assume Bills dreading his future as second fiddle to his successful wife, or that hes wise to Janets infidelities with the mysterious character who keeps calling and texting her as she scrambles to get ready for the party. But then he reveals a cancer diagnosis, which marks one of many high-drama reveals to come.

The announcement is a shock to all the other party guests, who have their own myriad problems. Janets best friend April (Patricia Clarkson) is about to separate from her new-age weirdo husband Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) and spends the film issuing a barrage of snarky one-liners at him and anyone else who says anything she doesnt agree with. For his part, Gottfried is a vacant cartoon, full of so much high-minded drivel that its impossible to see how he and April would have gotten together in the first place.

Martha (Cherry Jones) is a snobbish professor whose obscure academic qualifications inspire one character to describe her as a first-rate lesbian and a second-rate thinker. Her partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer) is pregnant with triplets, but their relationship is about to collapse under the weight of the coming revelations of Marthas past.

The tension increases when the hotshot banker Tom (Cillian Murphy) arrives with a concealed weapon and a generous stash of cocaine. Like Gottfried, hes more a guest of association, married to Janets friend Marianne, who Tom claims is running late. As he fumbles with his weapon in the bathroom immediately after sniffing a line, presumably we are to wonder who hes come to kill.

The excellent cast and chaotic premise suggest a fun and wacky comedy, but the characters are so insufferable two or three quips from April would be effective, but two or three dozen just make you resent her that the whole production begins to feel like a dinner party version of Monty Pythons Upper-Class Twit of the Year sketch, minus the wit.

As Potters story stumbles forward, characters reveal secrets and connections and infidelities, one twist leads to another and the whole thing builds to a surprise finale that falls flat because youd just as soon the whole party gets wiped out by an errant meteor. The entire film only stretches out to an hour and 11 minutes, including the credits, which poses a strange glass-half-empty, glass-half-full predicament: If you hate it, it will at least be over soon. But then you have to come to grips with the fact that youve paid full price for at best two-thirds of a movie.

Oh, its also shot in black and white.

The Party should have been better. It should have been so much better.

The Party" is rated R for language and drug use; running time: 71 minutes.

Cillian Murphy
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