Words and talking
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Reviews

Between 2005-2016 I wrote more than 2,000 reviews for the Chicago Tribune's RedEye. Here's a good place to start.

Patricia Clarkson is the best, but still

It’s a weird thing to watch a movie just fall apart.

A little ways past its extremely short, 66-minute runtime, the British political farce “The Party” is, and I mean this as a compliment, as refreshing as a shot of bleach, a social gathering incapable of toasting without creating shards. “Tickle an aromatherapist and you find a fascist,” utters April (Patricia Clarkson), practically overflowing with excitement to separate from her husband Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a life coach whose clichés she finds infuriating. They’re not the only exhausted couple – Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), hosting a gathering to celebrate her role as the next Minister of Health, texts an unseen boyfriend as her husband Bill (Timothy Spall), blank-faced and sipping wine in the other room, gets deep meaning and despair just from the way he swallows.

The problem is that writer-director Sally Potter leans too heavily on obvious exposition, with characters bluntly articulating backstory like, to paraphrase, “Oh come on, you do remember he wrote a book about the very subject we’re talking about, right?” And the seeds of escalating anger are just so stale, from mundane romantic betrayals to a couple (Cherry Jones, the ever-underrated Emily Mortimer) arguing about having children on the way to coke-infused Tom (Cillian Murphy) carrying a gun for unknown reasons and getting more unpredictable with every snort.

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As Potter moves the pieces and smashes them into each other, no matter how juicy the banter the strings are always showing, especially as the night really disintegrates and you can’t believe half these people wouldn’t have left already. Anything intended to land as satire of the entitled only hovers as both familiar and unrefined.

The exception is Clarkson (catch up with "Cairo Time" now), who could deliciously underplay a character named SassyPants McGee, imbuing April with just the right dissatisfied outspokenness. She's the perfect brand of acid in a black comedy that isn’t always sure how to be funny. April no longer believes in the validity of democracy or sisterhood and expects the worst from people because of her dedication to realism; even when “The Party” (which pales in comparison to other intimate, disastrous soirees like “Carnage”) drags, you wish you could ask Clarkson to join you for a drink somewhere else.

C+

Matt PaisComment