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The Anniversary Party

Starring Jane Adams, Jennifer Beals, Phoebe Cates, Alan Cumming, Kevin Kline, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey and John C. Reilly
Written and Directed by Alan Cumming/Jennifer Jason Leigh

IN SHORT: Among the best "arthouse" movies we've seen this year. [Rated R for language, drug use and nudity. 115 minutes]

What presents more possibilities for creative tension than a festive gathering of upper class friends, and the strangers they don't want, attending an anniversary party? What presents more potential problems than the same? Finally, what may be the best film work done by Jennifer Jason Leigh since Georgia a whole hunk of years ago? Gaze up at the title and be even more impressed at Leigh's writing and directorial debut, sharing both credits with costar Alan Cumming, who has a host of writing and directing credits for the BBC. In their story, we get to submerge ourselves in secrets, lies, and all that other good stuff we rarely see on the big screen. Not that it's all perfect -- two of the couples in the supporting cast look too much alike and caused us identity problems -- but even when we knew what was coming next (right down to the next line of dialog) the pair still managed to toss a couple of surprises.

The Anniversary Party is a sleek, sophisticated and ultimately intense story of well heeled creative types living in the Hollywood Hills overlooking LA. The Sixth Anniversary of Sally and Joe Therrian (Leigh and Cumming) is being celebrated as a topper to five intensive months of reconciliation therapy -- Joe's got a wandering eye and Sally has made concessions of her own to get her almost ex back in the house, after an unspecified period. She's an American actress, once A-list and now on a career downslide. He's a Brit novelist, successful enough that he's been greenlighted to adapt and direct one of his novels, very loosely based on a character everyone in their world assumes is Sally (though the book character is twenty years younger than the real life wife). Present at their party: Mac and Claire Forsythe (John C. Reilly and Jane Adams), he the director of Sally's current movie project, she a new mother just this side of nervous breakdown. Cal Gold (Kevin Kline) is Sally's costar. His wife Sophie (Phoebe Cates) has retired from the biz to raise their two children, here played by Kline and Cates' real life son and daughter, who are adorable. Jerry Adams (John Benjamin Hickey) and wife Judy (Parker Posey) are the financial side of the biz; he's their business manager/ accountant. Jennifer Beals plays Gina Taylor, a photographer and pre-nuptials friend to Joe. It was her shoulder he cried on, via long distance telephone lines, during the months of separation. Levi Panes (Michael Panes) served a similar role as good friend, but nothing more than that, to Sally. And that's the lineup of who is supposed to be there.

Seeking to avoid a potential lawsuit, the Therrians have invited the couple in the house next door, Ryan and Monica Rose (Denis O'Hare and Mina Badie) who have been constantly complaining about the off-hours barking of Joe's dog Otis. Ryan is also a writer, though not successful. Monica is the mellow half of the pair, and a big fan of Joe's pop epics. Joe has also invited powerhouse acting star (or flavor of the month depending on your age demographic) Skye Davidson (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is to be the star of his movie. Sally hates the idea that some flavor of the movement is playing a role so obviously based on her -- and all of her friends have already made the assumption that Sally would be playing the role. It's an awkward situation and, as the presents and tributes roll out of the temporarily happy couple, Skye dispenses her own Anniversary offering to the gathering. Tabs of Ecstasy for everybody.

Once the kidlets are asleep. Once the grownups who don't wish to partake have left, the tabs are taken and we prepare for a very upscale Hollywood rave. It isn't the drugs that bring the party down. It's all that buried tension in the rocky marriage, coupled with the sexual enhancements that Ecstasy brings, working its whiles on the other couples and singles. Just when you think you know exactly where The Anniversary Party is moving to, which seems to be a giddy horny rich folks comedy, writers Leigh and Cumming unwrap a pair or more of emotional sledgehammers and take it to the audience, no holds barred.

Ecstasy must be an amazing drug. Some couples have that mellow, experience and are incredibly happy. Some there are the couples that have something bad and traumatic go down, and then forget about it in a matter of minutes. Then there is the matter of the missing dog, Otis, who escapes while the women stage synchronized swimming routines in the swimming pool under the direction of director Mac. By this point, we had already figured out most of what was to come. But our creative pair still managed to whack us with a couple of heavy dramatic twists. Take a deep breath. Drink lots of water. Prepare for multiple surprises.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Anniversary Party, he would have paid . . .


We sit through a lot of indie flicks aimed at the arthouse circuit. Most are, for us, difficult to endure. Putting a lot of recognizable faces in a bad script can't save a dog which The Anniversary Party is not. The character work is good, especially Adams and Reilly, and the ultimate twists in the story (even the ones we guessed far in advance) were written well enough to keep our eyes actively glued to the screen all the way through the closing credits.

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