Actors Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan C*****g co-direct this digitally shot (though you’d hardly notice it) dramatic comedy that takes place over the course of one night. “The Anniversary Party” is an inside look at Hollywood that gets underneath the glamour and the lifestyle and presents actors, writers, directors as real people with colossal problems – or that’s what they think. Joe (Alan C*****g) and Sally (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are about to celebrate their six-year wedding anniversary after a painful separation lasting the better part of a year. They have reconciled but not without some issues, most of which stem from their chosen professions in the entertainment business. Sally is a successful, yet neurotic Hollywood actress in her late thirties, which is really old in “actress” years. She has almost, but never quite won the Oscar and she’s coasting through her roles now. Joe is a successful author whose latest novel is loosely based on his relationship with Sally and her drug addiction. Joe recently completed the screenplay and will direct the filmed adaptation of his book. Which is all well and good except that it will star hot, young actress Skye Davidson (Gwyneth Paltrow), a woman 10 years younger than Sally. In fact, Skye plans to drop by the anniversary party, much to Sally’s dismay.
The opening scene sets up the themes for the film as Joe and Sally are seen going through a relaxing yoga exercise with their trainer. They are continually distracted by the phone ringing, messages and arriving help in the form of their two maids. They do their bests to avoid these obstacles and continue on with their yoga lesson while trying to stay together which proves tougher than they both expect.
The all-star cast includes Kevin Klein, Phoebe Cates, John C. Reilly and Parker Posey among others who must be friends in real life – these people are just way too familiar. These close-knit groups of friends have a lot of history, and we are offered glimpses into each relationship upon the arrivals. The dialog isn’t cute or clever, it’s not “written” with punch lines or dramatic beats, in fact, it’s almost too real. As if we are watching a real party play out before our eyes. When the neighbors, who were invited out of politeness, actually decide to show up, the dynamic shifts from being a friendly party to this odd couple attempting to fit in when they are the objects of a lot of hate. Y’see Joe loves his dog and the neighbors hate Joe’s dog barking. It has been the source of much conflict and a potential lawsuit. We observe the party move in stages from food to gifts to a game of charades to glowing tributes to Sally and Joe and onto a rave party. Every stage of the party adds a new dimension to each character and the dynamics between characters and it is constantly changing. “The Anniversary Party” is a rich, character-driven film that results in great pay-offs for every conflict. By the end, I felt like I really knew these people and it would be a blast to party with them.
Co-directors Jason Leigh and Cummings have delivered an uncharacteristically smart comedy with surprising dramatic turns and excellent performances across the board. Most notably is John C. Reilly as a frustrated film director whose latest project is a disaster – mainly due to Sally’s lackluster performance that we see in dailies. “The Anniversary Party” translates a lot better than most “films about filmmaking” in the sense that we are offered an intimate glimpse into the constant emotional crisis and the true feelings of those who work in the movie business.