003779Reviews & Counting
The Anniversary Party
DVD disk
09.27.2004 By: JoBlo
The Anniversary Party order
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Alan Cumming

Jennifer Jason Leigh
Alan Cumming
Gwyneth Paltrow


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A novelist (Cumming) and his actress wife (Leigh) have gotten back together after a break-up and invited many friends over for their sixth year wedding anniversary. Stars, directors, neighbors, kids, maids and drugs mingle as day turns into night, and light-hearted conversation turns into dark.
Write what you know. That’s what the professionals always tell up-and-coming screenwriters…write what you know. So here are first-time scribes Leigh and Cumming putting together a movie featuring themselves and their Hollywood friends, getting together at a cool, swinging pad, drinking, eating, dropping the X and philosophizing about life, love, kids and relationships. Think HURLYBURLY, but with less drugs and more emphasis on relationships and children. So is it any good? Well, let me preface my response to that by telling you that I am generally pretty interested in all films about Hollywood and its stars, so this one had me with that much. Unfortunately, the film just puts too many characters into the mix, glances over most of them and doesn’t provide for any real sympathetic ones (surprise!), for you to truly get involved.

Having said that, the actors are all very good (although one scene featuring a blow-out between Leigh and Cumming is way over the top …I wonder why the directors didn’t tell them to tone it down a little? ), the pace of the movie grooves pretty well, and there were some decent back-and-forths (John C. Reilly is always a kick, and damn if that Phoebe Cates isn’t the most adorable thing in the world!). The other names in the cast include Kevin Kline and a “pudgy-faced” Gwyneth Paltrow (looking much better with some meat on her bones, I might add), both of whom do their thang. The film isn't really plot-driven as much as it is just a character study, and in that respect, my favorites in the film were the “outsiders” (played by Dennis O'Hare and Mina Badi, Leigh’s half-sister in real life), both of whom really gave you a feel of what it was like to drop in on one of these VIP parties. So if the Hollywood back-scene interests you, if you want to see what the stars do when they’re high and if you could fool yourself into believing that Cumming’s character is actually heterosexual, despite his overly effeminate everything, then you might just enjoy some of this, but don’t expect it all to wrap up with a neat bow, because these types of movies aren’t about that…they’re about “the journey” (you bet!).

NOTE: And how similar is this movie to the real-life people in it? Well, consider Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, who play a husband/wife acting duo in the film (and are in real life), and the fact that the wife says that she (more or less) gave up on acting to raise their children (as Phoebe did in real life). And their kids in the film? You guessed it…their own! Not all of the characters were written so much like the actual people playing them, but their case was pretty exceptional.
Now here’s one of the reasons I’m not crazy about being a “movie reviewer” sometimes. After listening to the full-length commentary track by Leigh and Cumming, which gets really deep inside the characters and their respective scenes, I had a greater appreciation for the film (yay, DVD!). This happens with a few movies that I watch from time to time, which makes it difficult to put my initial thoughts about the film down in stone: some films just take longer to gel in the mind, inspire and appreciate. Anyway, enough griping about my day/night-job.

Another thing about the commentary track which initially turned me off was the fact that it was recorded separately. I was really upset at that because I thought having them together (they co-wrote and directed the thing for God’s sakes!) would have been the way to go, but their insightful and even more importantly, diverse opinions and background info on each scene, made it an even greater listen. I’m assuming that if they were to have done it together, there might have been a lot more “remember that day and how hot it was outside?” type of comments, which might’ve prevented certain other items from being revealed. The most interesting things that I remember from the track: 1) Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates have actually been great friends for 20 years, since they shot FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH together and 2) Leigh asked P.T. Anderson to read her script once she was done and he gave her some tips.

A 20-minute Sundance Channel “Anatomy of a Scene” featuring one particular sequence from the movie in which every guest goes up and makes a speech, is discussed here with both directors, the editor and some other people. One thing you learn is that the speeches given by each of them was actually the only thing in the film which was completely improvised by the actors themselves. You also get some insight into some of the reasonings behind the things they did in that scene, all of which were interesting to me. A trailer of the film is also included.
Not for the Saturday night movie renters, this film is likely to be appreciated by the “connaisseurs” of film, the art-house crowds and others who apparently consider it “Really funny! I laughed out loud.” (that’s the quote on the cover of this dvd and even though I might’ve chuckled a couple of times during this movie, I don’t consider it a comedy by a long shot!! Then again, comedy is subjective, right?) Basically, if you are interested in some behind-the-scenes of Hollywood folk on X, you might want to pick it up along with your own bottle of Chardonais. The commentary track is also quite worthwhile.
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