Sally Potter’s “The Party” is 71 minutes long.
That fact alone isn’t necessarily a selling point — stories need as long as they need — but when superhero movies and comedies regularly extend well past the two-hour mark, it’s hard not to appreciate the restraint.
And it is a rich and layered 71 minutes that Potter spends, in black and white, with a group of highly educated and dysfunctional people gathering for a dinner party at Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) and Bill’s (Timothy Spall) London house to celebrate Janet’s appointment as the shadow minister for health.
You know from the outset that things will spiral out of control. The film opens with a disheveled Janet pointing a gun at a mystery person on the other side of the door. Then the film jumps back to the beginning of the evening and you spend the dizzying duration watching the crowd unravel.
It’s a delightful grouping, including cynical, blunt April (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz). There is Martha (Cherry Jones), a women’s studies professor, and her pregnant, emotional partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer).
And then there is Tom (Cillian Murphy), a skittish banker who arrives last and without his wife, whom he says is stuck at work and will arrive later. Then he heads to the bathroom to do a few lines of cocaine.
Bill, too, is acting strange. He’s almost catatonic, seated in a chair, limply holding a glass of wine, but Janet is too busy to notice between preparing canapés and juggling texts and calls from someone she is clearly having an affair with.
Potter follows each character throughout the evening, sometimes overlapping action and dialogue. Each gets an arc and crisis of conscience and moment of release..
While it is wickedly funny and deft, you wouldn’t want the company of this crowd for an extended amount of time. But it is fun to be a fly on the wall for this bizarre night, a little dinner theater canapé that’ll make you laugh and think and be grateful (hopefully) that your friends aren’t this kooky. By the end, you’re ready to call it a night too.
(At the Tivoli.)
Rated R for language and drug use.