Film Review: The Party (UK, 2017) delivers pitch-black comedy at its best

Black comedies can be a very hard genre to pull off. Since it dwells within serious issues that could potentially be seen as taboos within the genre, it requires a certain balance between empathy, humour and darkness. But like all films, they have to have a certain amount of humanity for the audience to cling onto.

Some comedies would have either have characters that can we can believe in and latch on to or the characters are so reprehensible that we can laugh at them as well as their predicaments. And this is where Sally Potter‘s latest film, The Party fits in.

With an embarrassment of riches ranging from the cast (including Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy and others) to the crew (including editor Anders Refn) and an acclaimed director in Sally Potter, The Party looks like to be a great change of pace for Potter’s filmography. Will it be fun like a party should be or will it stink like a party pooper?

Shot in monochrome widescreen, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) hosts an intimate gathering of friends in her London home to celebrate her ascension up the political ladder. After her passive-aggressive best friend (Patricia Clarkson) and other stand-out characters arrive (Cillian Murphy, Cherry Jones, Bruno Ganz, Emily Mortimer), some of them have dramatic news to share, which could end up showing them to be party poopers.

And of course, the cherry on top could be an announcement by Janet’s husband (Timothy Spall), which could provoke a series of revelations. As the sophisticated shindig starts to peel away the layers, a night that began with champagne soon ends up with arguments, shouting and a pointed gun. Now it’s a party!

The funniest part of the film, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the visual cue of a fox in the film, which was reminiscent of Lars Von Trier‘s horror film, Antichrist. Since The Party was edited by Anders Refn, who had worked on Antichrist as well as having both films being shot in monochrome, it seemed to be a sly poke on Antichrist, hinting that chaos would reign once the party starts.

The Party is only 71 minutes long, so this review is going to be short and concise like the film. Sally Potter and her cinematographer, Alexey Rodionov try really hard to make a small setting look well-drawn and distinct and The Party is really well shot, as the lustrous black and white accentuates the feelings and points of view of the characters: there is always a grey area.

The characters are all forward-thinkers and their cynical views could have been a drag to watch on-screen, even at 71 minutes, but thanks to director Sally Potter and the ensemble cast, it is great to see that them show empathy for the characters and that is what makes the audience stick through the film. Even if the titular party is meant to be a victory celebration.

Since the main trajectory of the film is politics, the humour itself could easily had aimed for easy targets like bigotry, Brexit, capitalism etc, but thankfully the humour is always grounded in character, and the seven characters assembled here are all wonderfully realised by the cast.

On the female side, Kristen Scott Thomas is great as the repressed Janet, who is basically trying to remain composed with her many responsibilities as being a dutiful wife to her husband as well as her duties for her newly appointed position, and her many secrets. And we have Patricia Clarkson, who is entertainingly acerbic as April, delivering barbed lines of dialogue as if they were grenades; and of course the couple, Emily Mortimer and Cherry Jones, who are both endearingly grounded as the moody Jinny and the intellectual Martha.

On the male side, we have Timothy Spall, who’s facial expressions and seemingly monosyllabic deliveries are spot-on, being the so-called “patriarch” of the entire film. And we have Cillian Murphy, who is fantastic as the unstable member of the party and clearly doesn’t have the skills to stay composed as Janet. And last but definitely not least, we have Bruno Ganz, who is endearing as Gottfried, to the point of almost seeming delusional as he quotes lines upon lines of hippy New Age platitudes.

What weakens the impact of the film however is the ending. Although it does tie up most of the loose strands in the narrative, the impact of it all doesn’t really amount to much, in comparison to what had proceeded it.

Overall, The Party is a pitch-black, hilarious and satirical comedy with a fantastic cast and Potter’s assured filmmaking. Although the film may not have the impact that it could have, The Party was great while it lasted.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Party hits theatres nationwide 12 April, 2018.