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August 14, 2017 | by  | in Film |
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The Party (2017) — Sally Porter

Janet (Kirsten Scott Thomas) has just been named the new Minister of Health and invites a group of friends to celebrate with her. Her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) is drunk and despondent, her friend April (Patricia Clarkson) can barely contain her nihilist despair, and Tom (Cillian Murphy) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The happier participants — Jinny, Martha, and Gottfried (played by Emily Mortimer, Cherry Jones, and Bruno Ganz, respectively) — attempt to paint a smile on proceedings, but they quickly begin to crack.

It’s a familiar set-up: a group of respected actors are given a witty script and confined to a single location. At its best, this kind of melodrama can be the perfect representation of Sartre’s declaration that “hell is other people.” Of course, People Arguing and Coming to Terms with ThingsTM is not a very cinematic premise, but, under Porter’s direction, this comedy of manners is a tightly-wound machine.

The editing undergirds every verbal barb, and quick cuts to Spall’s empty eyes and Clarkson’s raised eyebrows act as the ultimate form of punctuation. These expressions, whether they’re smirks, cringes, or thousand-yard stares, are cast into an even more vivid light by the film’s black and white cinematography (made more impressive by the Embassy’s giant screen). These emotions aren’t just writ large, but stretched to absolute, hyperbolic limits. In any other circumstance, the shift from verbal (and emotional) violence to physical altercations would seem contrived; in this film, however, every slap is an extension of a character’s tongue, a natural overflow of their simmering frustration.

The Party is the funniest film I have seen all year: there is nothing more fascinating than watching characters snap on screen, and nothing more transgressive than being able to laugh about it.

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