(Directed by Sally Potter) (2017)
Contrivance is self-evident in this short, slight, by-the-numbers retro film, a kind of cross between Albee, O’Neil and The Strange Death of Liberal England, looking almost as if staged during the Thatcher years.
Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is Labor’s new Shadow Minister for Health, and pads about her inner London kitchen, preparing party snacks and smugly taking celebratory calls. Why this poisoned chalice without power is a cause for celebration is not clear. Certainly Janet’s cynical pal, April (Patricia Clarkson) doesn’t get it, but she keeps busy spraying about witless witticisms that prompt the odd nasty snicker but rarely a genuine laugh. (Everyone acts as though they’re drunk before the party started, yet all are too old to be pre-loading Jäger-Bombers). April hates, yet seems to stick with, silly New-Ageist Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), who grins idiotically whilst deprecating western medicine and being generally as ineffectual as mystic Marion from Kath and Kim.
Meanwhile, Janet’s husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), supposedly a brilliant professor of dialectics, sits and stares, catatonic and withdrawn. And then we have lesbian mothers-to-be Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer) who are having a crisis of confidence. Finally, Tom (Cillian Murphy), the token Tory amongst this den of Doris Lessing types, looms, sweaty, coked-to-the-gills and clearly having a crisis of his own, considering the gun that he keeps either fiddling with or tossing in Bill and Janet’s recycling bin. Tom’s gun, and Tom’s absent wife, serve here as the MacGuffin.
In the course of 70 minutes or so, the whole melange dissolves with a tedious predictability. Psychologically, the scenario collapses completely. These are motifs, not men; gestures, without ideas. The serious actors, we assume, are not at fault – we suspect the director instructed them to mug as if on a sitcom. Even so, Scott Thomas and Ganz actually manage to rise above the material, which telegraphs its denouement (via SMS) well before the hour strikes. The actors get to do the stuff they love – snarl, snort, spit, drink, cry, vomit, slap, emote. We don’t suggest that The Party is not to be preferred over the depressing trawlers of car chases and comic-book films, but we don’t know why those get made either.