“The Anniversary Party is terrific – a testament to the true talent of its pair of triple-threats…”
At first glance, several elements of The Anniversary Party raise serious warning flags. It was shot on digital video. It stars Jennifer Jason Leigh (an exceptional actress whose talents are often hidden by heavy-handed method acting or buried under numerous tics and mannerisms) and Alan Cumming (a genuinely gifted thespian with an unfortunate tendency toward preciousness). Not only do the overly-emotive pair star, but they co-wrote and directed the movie as well. Combined, these ingredients point to a potentially painful experience.
But looks can deceive, a point demonstrated by – and within – the movie itself. The Anniversary Party is terrific, a testament to the true talent of its pair of triple-threats. The cinematography is superb, Leigh and Cummings are at their very best, and the story is surprisingly honest and insightful. A scathing depiction of the conflicting emotions in all relationships, this movie shows that most hidden feelings should stay that way.
As the title suggests, the movie takes place at an anniversary party for a couple, Sally (Leigh) and Joe (Cummings), who, after a yearlong separation, are celebrating their six-year anniversary at home with a group of close friends. The movie brilliantly captures the stilted, forced conversations common at parties; viewers get to know each character through such small talk. At first, everything is strictly superficial; it isn’t until a game of charades that true personalities begin to materialize. Gradually, the complex dynamics between each party guest start to emerge. And what a tangled web it is: histories, jealousies, insecurities, and above all, secrets. The party takes a drastic turn when one partygoer offers up Ecstasy for the group. After taking the “love” drug, there’s no turning back for the guests as they face hidden emotions in themselves and their friends.
First-time-directors Cumming and Leigh have assembled a topnotch cast, which includes John C. Reilly, Parker Posey, Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Beals. Only Gwyneth Paltrow- out of her league with this stellar bunch – clunks in this otherwise perfectly tuned ensemble.
The Anniversary Party illustrates the hazards of blindly trusting friends and lovers, as well as the perils of recreational drug use. But as a new day breaks and the guests gather their belongings, perfect their façades and prepare to face the world again, the film’s most important message seems to be that in spite of all the drama, life goes on. No matter what, the movie seems to say, there’s just got to be a morning after.