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The Anniversary Party

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

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Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Alan Cumming
Director: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Rated: R
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: June 2001
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: John Benjamin Hickey, Denis O'Hare, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mina Badie, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Beals, Kevin Kline, Lisa Kudrow, Parker Posey

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Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

Joe and Sally Therrian, played with comedic and dramatic verve by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, are throwing a party. And not just any party, but an anniversary party to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. Given that they had broken up just 5 months ago, their friends at the party are pleased to see that they have patched things up.

Cumming and Leigh, who jointly wrote and directed THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY, invited their real-life friends to star with them in it, which gives the film a killer ensemble cast. How often do you get to see the likes of Cumming, Leigh, Jane Adams, Jennifer Beals, Phoebe Cates, Kevin Kline, Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey and John C. Reilly in the same movie? With this impressive talent, they make an indie-budget film that has more edge, skill and pizzazz than you normally find in such productions.

To add even more icing to this cinematic cake, respected cinematographer John Bailey (ORDINARY PEOPLE and AS GOOD AS IT GETS) demonstrates that digital video can indeed look sharp, sumptuous and generally steady. Normally, indie directors are willing to accept DV movies that appear so ugly that they remind you of your neighbor's bad home videos.

Joe and Sally are both in "the business," as are almost all of the guests. Joe's an author turned director who is currently directing for scale, whereas his lead actress, Skye Davidson (Gwyneth Paltrow), is being paid four million. Joe, who is described by one character as a "sexually ambivalent manchild," clearly has more than a directorial interest in Skye, which Sally resents. When Skye, a blonde bimbo who lies about her age, first enters the room, she bats her big eyes at Joe, and a tiny breeze fans her golden hair.

Skye, who is a big fan of Sally's pictures, tells her, "I've been watching your movies since I was 4," which, of course, only reminds Sally that she's no longer an ingénue. Skye goes on to remark that when she was in drug rehab -- the second time -- she wasn't allowed to watch Sally's drug movie because the acting was too realistic.

Among many good performances, Jane Adams (HAPPINESS), as actress Clair Forsyth, the wife of Sally's current director Mac Forsyth (John C. Reilly), turns in one of the best pieces of work, as she allows herself to look awful in the service of her craft. Clair is a painfully thin new mom who is stoked up on diet pills in order to lose the fat that she doesn't have. Always so jittery that she seems in danger of leaping off the screen, Clair has a long, revealing nude scene that will make you want to bring her a robe to cover up.

The comedy turns more serious as the story advances, and the funniest lines usually have aspects of both humor and drama. Sophia Gold (Phoebe Cates) reveals the dirty little secret that every parent knows but doesn't want to admit. Once you have children, you can't commit suicide since "kids rob you of that option." It's a bitingly true commentary on parenthood. The script is filled with such little gems of wisdom.

THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY runs 1:55. It is rated R for language, drug use and nudity and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes

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