The Anniversary Party Review

Jun 10, 2001 | 8:51am EDT

Novelist Joe and actress Sally (Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh who wrote and directed) are having a party to celebrate the fact that they've completed six years together despite a recent separation resulting in wounds that haven't quite healed. Among the elite inviteds are their actor/director/writer/photographer friends/infatuations/business partners (played by among others Kevin Kline Phoebe Cates John C. Reilly Parker Posey Jennifer Beals and Gwyneth Paltrow). Sticking out like sore thumbs in this clique are the couple's litigious dog-hating neighbors invited in a shallow attempt to avoid a potential lawsuit. Everything's going swimmingly until someone whips out the Ecstasy and sends the shindig spiraling out of control--off come the clothes out come the true feelings and away we go!

Leigh turns in a superb performance as an aging actress who is supremely confused about marriage and motherhood. But Cumming in Boy London wifebeater and multiple pigtails and sucking a lollipop as a married-but-still-on-the-make playboy? (The love scene they share in the beginning is laughable.) The multitude of characters is both good and bad--each actor gets a chance to flesh his or hers out which is revelatory (Mina Badie enjoys the greatest character arc as the timid neighbor) or tiresome (Jane Adams' neurotic hysteric and mostly topless actress). Cates delivers the movie's best scene laying into Sally about her devotion to a "sexually ambivalent man-child" and venting about giving it all up for the kids (including the chance to do oneself in via a household appliance).

A gaggle of famous folks starring in an all talk no action flick about relationships and Hollywood where no one ever leaves the house? No wonder the phrase "naval-gazing self-indulgence" comes up. The film takes its time going nowhere and needs drugs to get even semi-interesting (take some yourself before committing 115 minutes of your life to this). After so much unremittingly dull small talk and a never-ending game of charades comes the utmost in smug actor-y pretension: an interminable brain-paralyzingly tedious scene of guests (including Kline and his kid) performing in homage to the happy couple (acts which the cast members wrote themselves--thank god most actors don't write). Just when you think it'll never end it doesn't--even guests you've never met get up to pay their respects.

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