“The Party” is brief (just 71 minutes), which is as it should be; high-toned archness is hard to sustain, and even this cast (including Kristin Scott Thomas and Patricia Clarkson) couldn’t keep things aloft much longer. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Sally Potter’s “The Party” has, quite possibly, the best opening that I’ve seen in a very long time. In crisp black-and-white, we see a front door opening to find Kristin Scott Thomas inside. She looks harried, tired, shocked, breathless, a little crazed, and like her last nerve is on borrowed time. Seeing whoever she sees on the doorstep, she gives a mirthless, lost Cheshire-cat smile and, trembling, raises a gun to the camera — which is to say, to us. Cut to blackout, and title card; the whole thing took about 20 seconds. Now that, my friends, is how you start a movie.
That “The Party” doesn’t quite live up to its opening moment is perhaps inevitable; frankly, after seeing that first scene, I just wanted to replay it over and over. But “The Party” moves on, or rather it rewinds, taking us to the events that preceded that doorway confrontation. Janet (Scott Thomas) is hosting a party with her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), in their London townhouse, to celebrate her promotion in the political realm. Friends gather — a squabbling couple (Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz) on the verge of a breakup, a lesbian couple (Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer) experiencing mixed feelings upon approaching parenthood, a cocaine-sniffing banker (Cillian Murphy) who arrives without his wife — and trouble, of the darkly comedic variety, ensues. Eventually we find out the identity of that unfortunate soul on the doorstep — and other secrets, too.
“The Party” is brief (just 71 minutes), which is as it should be; high-toned archness is hard to sustain, and even this cast couldn’t keep things aloft much longer. As it is, the usually brilliant Clarkson occasionally struggles with a character so acidic she could strip the finish off those elegant floors, and Spall’s nearly comatose Bill is mystifyingly opaque through much of the movie. But it’s worth attending this party if only for Scott Thomas, who’s never less than electric. Somebody needs to put Janet and her quivering energy at the center of a superhero movie; I’d watch.
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★★★ “The Party,” with Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy. Written and directed by Sally Potter. 71 minutes. Rated R for language and drug use. SIFF Uptown, Dine-In Seattle 10, Lincoln Square.