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Review: The Party

March 2, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest from writer-director Sally Potter, The Party is a work of filmmaking that’s economical and to the point.  The film is short at just 69 minutes including credits, and doesn’t waste a minute of its running time.  It unfolds pretty much in real time, and all takes place in the same location, building towards one heck of a final reveal.

The film follows Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), who has just been appointed to serve as the Shadow Minister for Health in Britain’s opposition party, and is celebrating by throwing a dinner party at the London townhouse that she shares with her husband Bill (Timothy Spall).

The elite guests include the pretentious April (Patricia Clarkson) and her self-help guru husband Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), lesbian couple Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and Martha (Cherry Jones), and the coke-snorting banker Tom (Cillian Murphy) who is waiting for his wife to arrive.  But things quickly deteriorate following Bill’s decision to drop the bombshell news that he is not only terminally ill but also having an affair, which leads to the entire evening falling apart as more secrets come to the surface involving all of the guests.

There’s also a gun involved that we glimpse throughout waiting for it to go off, per Checkhov’s old adage about how a gun shown in the first act must be fired at some point.  This is an example of a small film that manages to leave a pretty big impact.  The entire ensemble cast does great work bringing each of the distinct characters to life, and the screenplay is sharply written, working in memorable dialogue as more revelations come to light.  The black and white cinematography adds a sort of sparse elegance to it.

The film was shot in 2016, and it serves as both a metaphor of the Labour Party in total meltdown post-Brexit, and the shocking blow dealt to progressives following the election of Donald Trump.  The result is a bitingly satirical and darkly comic chamber piece that offers the unique delight of watching rich elitists who think they have all the answers have the rug pulled out from under them one by one.

The Party is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

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