The Anniversary Party

The Anniversary Party


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Taking place over the course of one eventful night, The Anniversary Party treads on familiar ground, looking at the relationships and lives of a group of friends - Peter's Friends, The Big Chill, anyone? Despite the somewhat overused plot device, it manages to avoid most of the usual cliches.

Joe and Sally Therrian (Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh) are getting ready to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. However, there is more at stake here than an outward display of marital bliss. They are also using the evening to demonstrate to their friends that they have put a year-long separation behind them and are now intent on starting a family. Tensions remain, however, and their choice of party guests exacerbates the difficulties, for this is no suburban household drama, but a tale of film folk, dahlink.

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Joe is the writer of a book about their marriage tribulations and soon to direct the film version, while Sally is a thirtysomething actress, bitter at being deemed too old to play herself. When she discovers that Joe has invited beautiful starlet, Skye Davidson (Gwyneth Paltrow), she is not amused, but parries by informing him that she has invited their litigious neighbours, with whom they have an ongoing battle regarding their dog.

The evening rolls around, along with the rest of the cast, including Kevin Kline, on fine form as Cal Gold, a fortysomething actor, still longing to play against young leading ladies, Jane Adams (familiar from guest appearances in Frasier) as the wonderfully neurotic actress Clair Forsyth and Jennifer Beals as Gina Taylor, a photographer and Joe's first love.

Partying ensues and all seems to be going well until Skye produces the unlikely "gift of love" in the form of ecstasy tablets and the frame of things begins to disjoint.

Strong performances abound in this ensemble piece. Jason Leigh and Cumming are compelling as a couple in love and striving to put the past behind them, and after appearing in such dreadful offerings as Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas, Cumming, in particular, needs a hit.

The impressive acting may have been aided by the fact that Cumming and Leigh wrote the script with these specific performers in mind, which also leaves you to wonder if there are any autobiographical references hidden in the melee. Certainly, the Kline clan is out in force - wife Phoebe Cates appears and there's a scene in which he does a spot of ballet with their daughter, Greta, that is all the more convincing because of its obvious warmth.

The selection of ecstasy as the designer drug of choice is an interesting one and certainly makes a change from the toking of joints, or snorting of coke. Doubtless, some will label the movie irresponsible for its portrayal of casual drug use, but it doesn't glorify the habit in any way. For one thing, there's an implication that some of the partygoers have never used it before, flying in the face of several other films of this type, and we are spared any arty drug trip interludes.

As a debut stint at directing from Cumming and Jason Leigh, The Anniversary Party is enjoyable and witty, all the more impressive when you discover that it took only 19 days to shoot. It succeeds as a taut exploration of modern marital strife, which gets its mix of laughter and sorrow just about right and resists the urge to neatly package everything up with a happy Hollywood ending.

Reviewed on: 10 Aug 2001
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A couple's anniversary proves to be a test of their fidelity as well as of friendship.
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Director: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Writer: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Alan Cumming, Parker Posey, Kevin Kline, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C Reilly

Year: 2001

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2001

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