As I mentioned in my review of Georgia, I went into a bit of a Jenifer Jason Leigh overload, after being bowled over by her job in Mrs. Parker. The Anniversary Party is another excellent outing by a first time director (or directors, in this case). Never going down the obvious path, and often funny and touching, albeit most of them are quite foul-mouthed! Maybe they use that sort of language in Hollywood, but it isn't used very often in my social "circle". But definitely a good movie to watch. I originally wrote this review on April 5, 2002.
The Anniversary Party is a good serio-comic ensemble movie about a couple's sixth anniversary party. Joe (Alan Cumming and Sally (Jennifer Jason Leigh), after a troubled year, are throwing a party to celebrate their sixth year of being married, and are inviting some close friends, as well as a troublesome neighbor couple. As most of the people are both acting as movie people, and are really good actors, the parts are played to perfection by people you either know (Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Kline, for instance) or just recognize (actors like Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Beals). There's some pleasantly surprising twists and turns, along with some laughs and some real squirming moments, when embarrassing dramas are unfolding.
Written, directed and produced by first-timers Leigh and Cummings, The Anniversary Party is fun to watch and often surprising. Just when you think it is getting too smarmy, the action picks up and the story gets dark, coinciding, probably not coincidentally enough, with the drugs getting rolled out. Ecstasy isn't all it cracks up to be, I guess. One thing to be aware of is the almost excessive using of the f-word, particularly at the beginning of the film. Perhaps it is an early attempt by the neophyte writers to establish credibility, but a little would have gone a long way here.
All the acting is solid, but I especially like real life couple Kline and Cates, who, along with their real life children, ground the picture on a bedrock of reality. While I don't agree with the Maltin review that says the kids almost steal the picture, they are really endearing and the scenes of domestic felicity between the four come across as truly heartfelt. Cates in particular has several nice scenes with Leigh, trying to explain how a solid marriage and what being a parent really ought to be. Also, Mina Badie as the wife of the fractious neighbor has a real sweetness about her that counterbalances her wonderfully sour husband played by Denis O'Hare.
The DVD is excellent, although some of the lighting changes don't come across too well. It was all filmed on digital video, as the nice little documentary from Sundance Channel explains, and it has some really nice angles and shots. The commentary track by Leigh and Cummings is pretty solid, with some good background. Leigh explains how the project came about, and how she used it as therapy for herself, coming off a break up of her own. This movie is definitely worth a rental, perhaps even a purchase.