Short, smart and sharp as a tack, The Party flies in the face of one of modern-day cinema's worst instincts. When we say it's short, we mean it, with this hilarious social satire clocking in at just 71 minutes. As an argument in support of concise, compact filmmaking (and against protracted running times with pointlessmeandering and overdone special effects), the moviereally couldn't be stronger. Who needs to spend two to threehours watching '80s nostalgia, giant robots or whatever other bloated spectacle keeps coming our way when you can laugh heartily and frequently through this brief, biting take on Britain's bourgeois?
Of course, we're generalising. Not all lengthy blockbusters overstay their welcome, but few do exactly what they need to in the exact right amount of time like The Party. That said, the latest film from writer-director Sally Potter (Ginger & Rosa) doesn't just win over viewers with brevity and succinctness. Among its considerable charms, the movie also boasts scathing humour and a stellar lineup of talent.
The fast-paced shenanigans start with Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) opening the door to her London home, staring directly at the camera and looking incredibly unhappy. Jump back to earlier in the evening, when she's just been appointed Shadow Minister for Health and is preparing to host friends to celebrate. Her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) seems to be getting into the mood with a few drinks, although he's rather maudlin given the occasion. Entering at their own leisure, the guests are a motley crew of emotions and moods. The snarky April (Patricia Clarkson) fights with her soon-to-be-ex Gottfried (Bruno Ganz); expectant couple Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer) bicker over their approaches to motherhood; while banker Tom (Cillian Murphy) bides his time by doing cocaine in the bathroom — and trying to find somewhere to hide his gun.
With The Party confining its characters to Janet's house and charting their actions almost in real time, things get heated rather quickly. Secrets are spilled, tempers seesaw, relationships threaten to unravel and acidic one-liners fly thick and fast –with a few earnest confessions thrown in for good measure. The specific surprises and revelations are best discovered by watching, but Potter and co-writer Walter Donohue (a story editor on much of the filmmaker's work) do more than just thrust seven people into close quarters and wait for them to erupt. As the conversation flows, the movie covers everything from class clashes to gender roles to political instability, in a manner that very much feels like a product of its post-Brexit timing.
In what is perhaps a surprise for such a dialogue-heavy piece, the arguing and antics are shot in crisp black-and-white, with gorgeous roaming imagery that isn't afraid to get up close and personal. As a result,the movie sparkles not only in its comedy but in its visuals, which also helps overcome an obvious issue. Yes, The Party can sometimes resemble a play, albeit a particularly brisk and snappy one. Still, if Potter had plonked the same scenario and actors onto the stage, it'd still be an utter delight to watch.As for her cast, there are no weak links among the high-profile bunch — although Clarkson gets all of the best lines and Murphy will make you wish he flexed his comic chops much more often.