The Anniversary Party (2001)
Directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Joe and Sally Therrian are celebrating their sixth anniversary—though they’ve lived separately for most of the last one—with a few of their closest friends, past lovers, business advisors, directors, actors, and inscrutable neighbors in their Hollywood Hills home. Joe’s duplicitous behavior, bisexuality, and the indignancy of his decision to not cast his wife in his latest film (despite the character being based on her) have eroded their relationship—and Sally’s ability to give her all to the role she’s currently filming.
Stars Cumming and Leigh wrote and directed the film together, not necessarily based on their lives but on what their lives could be; it’s an incisive, voyeuristic look into the intermingling of nuanced characters. Cumming and Leigh recruited their real-life friends—Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates (out of retirement as a favor to her best friend and Fast Times costar), Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. Reilly, Parker Posey, Jane Adams, and Jennifer Beals among others—to play subtly different versions of themselves.
What starts as a champagne-fueled evening, filled with charades and intimate speeches dedicated to the couple, slowly metamorphoses into a drug-addled confessional, thanks to the ecstasy brought by Skye Davidson (played tactfully by Paltrow). All infected with what essentially acts as a truth serum, accusations and admissions fly, ruining some relationships and strengthening others. A near-dawn call from Joe’s father with horrible news about his neglected sister Lucy is the denouement that these wildly self-indulgent characters need to put the evening into perspective. And just like that, the party’s over, and so ends this intelligent glimpse into the fascinating lifestyles of the overly emotive, when all that remains is layers of grit, regret, and broken glass. Samantha Vacca (April 19, 7pm at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Jennifer Jason Leigh tribute)