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British novelist and film director Joe Therrian (Alan Cumming) and his actress wife Sally (Jennifer Jason Leigh) have reunited after a separation and decide to throw a party in their Hollywood hills home to celebrate their 6th anniversary. The guest list includes Skye (Gwyneth Paltrow), an up and coming actress set to star in Joe's film, Academy Award winning actor Cal (Kevin Kline), obsessive director Cal (John C Reilly), his neurotic and anorexic wife Clare (Jane Adams) and next door neighbours Ryan and Monica (Denis O'Hare and Mina Bade) who have been invited in the hope they will cease complaining about Joe and Sally's barking dog. In the course of the evening truths are revealed and relationships are tested by the revelations.

Despite terrific performances from an outstanding cast and some memorable moments, The Anniversary Party is a total indulgence by writers/directors/stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming. There's nothing tacky about the credentials of the friends they invited to participate in the project whatsoever. The premise is fun: reconciled couple invites friends to celebrate their anniversary, but circumstances expose rivalries and personal issues for all parties. I really didn't believe in the relationship between Joe and Sally. The chemistry is zilch, and if Cumming's slightly effeminate performance as Joe was intended as such, it was certainly not clarified enough to satisfy this critic. Was the scene by the swimming pool after dinner, when Joe puts his hair into girlie bunches, supposed to imply that during their separation, he had discovered an alternate sexuality? Bi-sexuality aside, the key issue, surely is that the substance of the film hinges on this relationship. If we don't believe in that, all we are left with is an occasionally amusing string of scenes performed by a top cast. I especially enjoyed Jane Adams' neurotic Clair, John C. Reilly's emotionally charged Mac, Phoebe Cates's Miss Perfection and Gwyneth Paltrow's flirtatious Skye, while Kevin Kline, Parker Posey, Jennifer Beals and the others are no slouches either. The idea of inviting the hateful couple next door, with whom there is an ongoing dispute about their dog Otis is fine, but how can we believe Joe and Sally would extend an invitation to smooth things over, but subsequently insult them? And why would the neighbours accept the goodwill gesture and offer a snide gift of a dog collar to help keep Otis silent? Cheap laughs. It is disappointing, because the talents of all concerned deserve a more fitting showcase.
Louise Keller

The Anniversary Party is a home movie alright but how many homes entertain the kind of crowd assembled by Joe and Sally on this fateful night in the Hollywood hills? Made by film industry insiders, this is a knowing and entertaining exercise in group dynamics in the tradition of The Boys In The Band (1970) and The 300 Year Weekend (1971). The narrative follows a straightforward path as guests arrive, get high on drugs including Ecstacy and start revealing bigger and more devastating truths. What's of greater interest are the performances of a high calibre cast playing the kind of company they keep in real life. We can believe Jennifer Jason Leigh as an actress in her late 30s who's been passed over for the lead in her husband's film. We can believe she's lost out to Gwyneth Paltrow, playing the hot young star of the moment. Similarly, there's Kevin Kline as a star who's now too old to play romantic leads, his real-life-wife Phoebe Cates as an actress who gave it all up when motherhood called and the outstanding Jennifer Beals (hot for five minutes as the star of Flashdance in 1983) as a photographer whose past with Joe comes into play as the evening progresses. Without turning events into a freak show or a bad-tempered expose of the pitfalls of all that fame and wealth, co-directors Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming offer a compelling couple of hours with Hollywood players who, minus the trappings of glamour, are seen fumbling around with their lives just like the rest of us. Shot on videotape in four weeks by ace DOP John Bailey (who thankfully keeps the camera steady, unlike almost everyone else who picks up a digi-cam), this is a fascinating piece of voyeurism and one that makes you feel as if you're there in the corner watching it all. How much you enjoy this may depend on fascination with Tinseltown. If the neuroses, ambitions and insecurities of film folk are of interest, chances are you'll be engrossed by what happens at this party. If not, this is still worth a look for the cast alone, although you may feel that it's a tad overlong at 115 minutes.
Richard Kuipers

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CAST: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Jane Adams, John C Reilly, Parker Posey, Jennifer Beals

PRODUCERS: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joanne Sellar

DIRECTOR: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh

SCRIPT: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh


EDITOR: Carol Littleton, Suzanne Spangler

MUSIC: Michael Penn

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 18, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: April 24, 2002

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