Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: The Anniversary Party

It would have been next to impossible for me not to like THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY. I went to see this film for three very specific reasons, three reasons that I knew the film could not disappoint me. Those reasons are, in order of importance/interest:

1) Jennifer Jason Leigh
2) Parker Posey
3) Jane Adams

So, yes, while I have high-falutin’ ideas about “film as art” and like to indulge in discussions about Buddhism and half-baked political analyses in my movie reviews, I am still ultimately a sexist and a pervert at heart. But even as a pervert, I’m a complete dork, based on these women I am insanely attracted to. All the film needed was Lili Taylor also to be in it and I would have been in Pervert Dork Heaven.

Then, a few weeks after seeing THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY, I was having an email discussion with my friend Jessica about chicks. Jessica had brought up the subject of the phenomenon of men going gaga for petite, doe-eyed females who bring out the protective instincts in males and also how these types of women manipulate this phenomenon, and thus men, for their own selfish desires, e.g. acting “weak” to coax diamond jewelry out of their loverboys.

While I agreed with Jessica in theory, knowing that there is this type of woman out there and that there are guys who adore that type, I didn’t think I could relate personally to this phenomenon based on the kinds of women that I am and have been attracted to. But then I gave the matter a little more thought and started thinking particularly about the women in THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY.

First of all, all three of them are petite ladies, but initially I only thought of Jane Adams as being emotionally “weak”, since she does have those giant doe eyes and the characters that I’ve seen her play have a neurotic fragility to them. In contrast to that, Jennifer Jason Leigh plays “tough” kinds of characters while Parker Posey fills her roles with a self-motivating manic energy.

However, closer inspection reveals that Leigh’s toughness is a brittle shell covering a needy center and Posey’s energy is like a computer experiencing a power surge, performing at optimum capacity only until her circuits get fried. So, while Jane Adams is a force in need of perpetual comforting, Leigh and Posey better have someone nearby for when their inevitable breakdowns commence.

Or maybe I’m just projecting my own needs into analyzing these three women’s personalities. I suppose I do have that basic male need to be someone’s “protector” and would thus assign women to their appropriate roles to fill that need.

Anyway, back to the movie:

In addition to having fabulouso babes for me to ogle, drool over and become fodder for disturbing sexual fantasies for months on end, THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY is a really good movie, too, even though it’s the type of film I would love to hate.

It’s written and directed by Jennifer Jason Leigh and her co-star Alan Cumming. I would have liked to have written the film off as self-indulgent claptrap made by some self-indulgent actors and starring their self-indulgent friends. But, the film, tho’ seriously flawed is very human, perceptive and emotional.

The basic plot is that Jennifer and Alan play a married couple – he a novelist/filmmaker and she an actress – who host an all-day anniversary party in their Hollywood home and invite mostly their Hollywood friends, who are all involved in “the business” in some regard. The actors playing the parts of the friends are the real-life friends of Jennifer and/or Alan, e.g. Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline.

And though the film is fictional, it appears that the characters are at least somewhat based on the actors playing them, which instead of making the film a feel-good pandering mess lends an air of authenticity to the emotions being explored. My favorite scene was one where Phoebe confronts Jennifer about the true nature of her husband. Yes, these were two actresses playing roles, but the intimacy was very real and honest between them. I suppose these two have remained friends since starring in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH together (a film I am constantly ridiculed about because I’ve never seen it).

Though Hollywood types are self-absorbed, shallow neurotic nutjobs – a fact that Jennifer and Alan seem to readily admit since they’re the ones who have written these characters as such – but that doesn’t mean that they’re not human beings with the same foibles and neuroses that we all have.