It's a bit of an irony that a feature film clocking in at the incredibly short time of only 71 minutes has more of the feel of a typical short film, but one that goes on rather too long. That includes the plot twist revealed at the very last second. It's almost as though The Party doesn't quite know what it wants to be. On the upside, you don't get much of a chance to get bored.
Although even with this movie, it takes a few minutes to really get things going. The action takes places entirely in the house of Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is preparing for a dinner party in the kitchen, fielding countless calls of congratulations while her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) sits drinking and listening to records in the living room, in a sort of stupor that lasts pretty much the entire film.
Janet has just been elected Shadow Minister for Health, and is hosting a dinner party with several intellectual friends -- each of them written with a broadly satirical flair by director and co-writer Sally Potter (Orlando) -- to celebrate. Women's Studies professor Martha (Cherry Jones) is there with her much younger partner, Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who is newly pregnant. Tom (Cillian Murphy) shows up without his wife who is never seen but understood to be a close friend and coworker of Janet's. And easily the best character of them all is Janet's best friend April, an idealist-turned-cynical-realist played by Patricia Clarkson, who never disappoints; she arrives with her insufferably anti-science and recently-separated husband, the German Gottfried (Bruno Ganz).
These are the only seven characters ever seen onscreen, the living room, kitchen, bathroom and backyard the only locations ever used, giving The Party very much the feel of a stage play being adapted for the screen. It is perhaps no coincidence that all the actors here have had successful stage careers. Except unlike most plays adapted into movies, The Party for the most part works very well. The writing isn't quite as clever as everyone involved clearly thinks it is, and the movie would have benefited from more of the snappy editing that characterizes the movie trailer much more than the movie itself. Yet, it's easy to get sucked into this story soon enough, on the strength of two key components: the performers, who across the board elevate the material (Clarkson most of all; she's the biggest reason to see this movie); and especially the cinematography, shot in black and white by Aleksei Rodionov in a way that puts all the tight quarters in effectively stark relief. Seldom is a location so static this compelling to look at.
Although one of the characters is never seen, there are four couples at play here, each of them with significant news and/or a secret that will be revealed in turn, often with terrible timing. I won't spoil what any of them are, should you decide to check this movie out, except to say that one of them brings a gun. It's no spoiler to say whose hands it ends up in, because the opening shot is of Janet opening her front door and pointing the gun directly at the camera, the point of view of whoever is standing at the door. And we don't get to find out who that is until the final shot, which recreates that scene but extends to Scott Thomas's last line.
To all The Party a dark comedy would be an understatement, and that's a big part of its appeal, at least for those with interest. The characters spend a lot of time barely stopping short of being parodies of themselves as they have high-minded, academically philosophical conversations about very typical things like love and politics, infidelity and betrayal. It's as though it doesn't matter what their socioeconomic background, people still have conflicts over the same shit.
The Party would have done better with some greater clarity, either by fleshing out its themes as a feature film or by tightening up the action as a short film. Still, I was more than sufficiently entertained. You might be too, on whatever streaming platform you see it on eventually.