The Anniversary Party (2001) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in white:

On the surface, it should have been an ideal project, with a cast that includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Phoebe Cates, Jane Adams (topless), and Parker Posey (topless). The scenario is neither good nor bad. It is an Anniversary party for an aging actress and her writer husband, who are in the sixth year of a rocky marriage. The film starts with the guests arriving, and moves quietly into boring chitchat, then charades, then everyone takes ecstasy, two women swim topless, one husband nearly drowns watching them under water, the dog runs off, the end.

And now you see the problem. Not much happens, it is very talky, the lit scenes are mostly back-lit, and all of the exposure is in dark scenes.

I found the film incredibly boring, nearly as much as I would have been bored at the actual party. I had a good deal of trouble staying awake. I was also unimpressed with the cinematography. The genre is "all night party where awful truths come out," and I suppose this is a fair example of this genre.  I will take the Australian film Don's Party over this in a Heartbeat.

Scoopy's comments in yellow:


I had almost the opposite reaction to this film.

Unlike Tuna, I thought it was a pretty good movie with a cutting edge and plenty of entertainment value, but unlike Tuna again, I felt it had too much plot, not too little. You see, this film is meant to be close-to-the-bone and truthful. In fact, in 99% of the film, I thought that we were watching real people in real situations. How many American movies can you say that about? I'm having a hard time coming up with one. In general, Hollywood is fantasyland, and the movie characters are its inhabitants. This film is about the real people behind the fantasyland characters, the actors, the creatives, the moguls, and the directors, plus their entourages and support staffs.


Parker Posey and Jane Adams swam together topless, with the action filmed underwater.

Adams also walked through the house topless for much of the second half of the film.

Jennifer Jason Leigh showed her breast from the side-rear.

But here's my problem - if you're going to write a realistic movie about one night's events, don't try to wring some artificial drama from something unlikely to happen. The film was going along in a 100% realistic mode, with the conversations getting uglier and franker, until the Alan Cumming character got a call telling him that his sister had died from an overdose. Then everything changed.  Minutes earlier, we had been eavesdropping on a conversation between Cumming and his wife about the sister, and their comments seemed that much more harsh and uncaring in light of her death. This was a contrived development. Mind you, that is the way things always happen in movies, but this particular movie struts around like a peacock with the pride of authenticity, and it should not have the kinds of events that happen in movies. It should have the kind of events that happen in life. I think they should have resolved the film's situations, not with the deus ex machina call from England, but as a natural outgrowth of the things that were happening between them at the party. In a situation like this, when you are trying to create cinema verite, you have to ask yourself to list the full range of likely ways that a party like this could end, and then pick one of them, one which seems to be cinematic and to tell the truth about the characters.

Having said that, I otherwise thought that the film was an incisive look into the film/theater subculture, how the politeness on the surface masks great jealousies and hostilities beneath, and how inhibition-destroying drugs let the truth show through one night. On a subtler note, it also shows how the surface politeness prevents people from giving each other needed legitimate feedback, thus subverting quality. In the main plot, John C Reilly is a director, and he's making a film with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kevin Kline. Both Kline and Reilly know that JJL is not capable of handling her role for some reason or another, probably personal. (We, the audience, know the reason, but Reilly and Kline do not.) Now imagine yourself in Reilly's position. His female star is not only one of the most respected actresses in the business, but also a close personal friend. How can he possibly tell her she completely sucks?

These sorts of things happen in reality in showbiz. I can think of two examples: Coppola's Dracula movie and Tarkovsky's Nostalghia. Both directors were in the process of creating laughably bad movies that seemed like SCTV parodies. But suppose you are working for Tarkovsky or Coppola - how do you look straight in the face of one of the five greatest film directors who ever lived, a guy with many brilliant and certified works of genius under his belt, and say, "this is complete crap that Ed Wood would be ashamed of"?  Who could say such a thing, have the stature to be believed, and also retain his friendship with the director? Maybe a great, outspoken actor, ala Dustin Hoffman, could get away with such a comment, but there was no such person available to those two directors. In the case of this movie, the drugs address the problem. Kline and Reilly confide in JJL's husband, and the husband later uses the facts to hurt her in an argument.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Commentary by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cummings

  • Anatomy of a Scene - Sundance Channel Documentary

  • DVD ROM: Script to screen

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

The film is shot on digital video. Many people said that it looked as good as film. I don't really agree with that, but I think digital video was the right way to make a film like this. The nature of digital video allowed the actors great freedom of movement without having to worry about the lighting and framing, and therefore it allowed them to move about as if in real interaction, rather than as if in a movie. People actually spoke to each other with their faces a normal distance apart, for example. Although they could have moved the camera even more than they did, they tried to avoid the shaky hand-held Blair Witch look, and kept the camera mounted most of the time. The underwater photography came out amazingly well for digital video.

Is it a great movie? I don't think so, but I think it is a pretty good one. I laughed at some of the characterizations, I cringed at some of the embarrassing moments, and was moved by some of the events. Although I do not especially like this kid of cinema verite with improvisational acting, in general, I kept watching without my interest ever waning significantly. I didn't much care for any of the characters, but I thought many of them were interesting.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4 

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.8 
  • With their dollars ... it took in $4 million domestic
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a "C at best" (Tuna) to C+ (Scoopy)

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