The Anniversary Party

Directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Alan Cumming, Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Beals, John C. Reilly, Jane Adams, Mina Badie, Gwyneth Paltrow.
MPAA Rating: R for language, drug use and nudity.

Review by Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles <>
July 9, 2001

I just got out of a two hour board of trustees meeting full of anger, finger-pointing and displays of the nasty side of human nature. As painful as this meeting was, it was a delightful, soothing getaway when compared with the two hours I spent watching The Anniversary Party last Friday.

Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh play author-turned-director Joe Therrian and aging actress Sally Nash, a married couple who are celebrating their six-year wedding anniversary after being separated for six months. They hold an all night bash at their Hollywood house and invite their closest friends -- all actors, lawyers, writers, and other types of artists, as well as three strangers: the neighbors next door, and actress Skye Davidson (Gwyneth Paltrow). What follows is a night of charades, one good sweet scene of toasts to the couple, ecstasy (the drug), accusations, recriminations, unshocking revelations, and a completely predictable off-screen tragedy.

Watching this film is as frustrating, aggravating and uncomfortable as attending a party full of strangers, most of whom turn out to be shallow, bitter, self-centered assholes. The Anniversary Party made me so angry that I wanted to pan it, trash it, utterly destroy it, but I can't. It's so well done. The acting is superb and the blending of written and improvised dialogue is seamless. It's also well filmed on digital video and looks splendid. The problem lies entirely in the plot and the construction of the characters. They are totally unlikable. I truly liked only 1 of the 15 featured characters and I tolerated 4 others -- two of which were children and were asleep through most of the film. Every one else I hated, particularly the two main characters. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming are such good actors that they manage to bring out every irritating and hideous nuance in their detestable characters. Worse actors would not have been able to reveal the depths of selfishness and paranoia that these two do. Michael Panes was lucky enough to play violinist, Levi Panes, the only likeable character. Levi has humor and self-awareness, where the other characters have anger and bile or just plain stupidity and petulance. When he was on screen, I was delighted; when he was off screen, I felt totally bereft and alone. His part isn't very big.

It takes great skill to be able to create a story filled with unlikable people that is still interesting to watch. David Mamet can do it; Cumming and Leigh didn't. The key here is that things happen to Mamet characters, whereas in The Anniversary Party characters talk about things that happened in the past or off screen and nothing really happens on screen.

The movie should have never been made. It is a waste of talent and the really horrible thing is that everyone involved decided to waste their talent as a special project. It is a bunch of Hollywood people who got together to make a movie about how hard it is to sustain relationships in Hollywood. It's group therapy for famous people and their friends that I paid nine dollars to see. Stay home -- watch "E! True Hollywood Stories" instead.

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The Anniversary Party (2001)

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