|Stunning performances are definitely the high point of this film. While the cinematography and location scouting look like they took a back seat during the production, it's impossible to look away from the picture when any of the talented actors is on the screen. Something about the way these characters interact with one another makes the film something other than the normal argumentative group of friends. All of the characters, or most of them, are in the entertainment business in California and they all handle their problems in true Hollywood style. For example, Jane Adams, who plays the character or Clair, is horrified in thinking that she's not thin enough to compete with other actresses currently on the circuit. But she weighs about ten pounds.|
She practically has a breakdown because of a completely unfounded fear. And the problems of the other characters are a strange bunch as well. Phoebe Cates's character, Sophia Gold, makes a point through most of the movie of saying that she enjoys staying home with the kids and not being in the limelight anymore. But her attitude changes over the course of the film and some of her best scenes occur when she shows her true feelings about her life. A scene approximately three quarters into the movie, with Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh's character of Sally Nash, is possibly one of the best dramatic scenes in a movie in years.
Perhaps the scene is so engrossing because Leigh and Cates are real life best-friends (having met on the set of Fast Times at Ridgemont High), and they were able to take the dramatic energy of the dialogue and push it up a few notches. It should be considered a shame that Phoebe Cates has, for all intents and purposes, retired from filmmaking. Her acting abilities are so incredible in this film that she should be at the top of every director's list. And it's a shame as well that Jennifer Jason Leigh has repeatedly been pushed into supporting roles in many of her films. Her complete believability in this role should be a benchmark for dramatic acting.
She does a large amount of research for each role she plays, and it's a credit to her abilities that she so excelled in this role and took on the duties of writing and directing the feature with partner Alan Cumming. Alan himself also plays quite an intriguing character as Leigh's husband. It is their anniversary party for which the film is named. Cumming plays a fine line between what some characters in the movie believe is a gay man trying to play it straight, and a completely devoted husband to Leigh. Their interactions together also include a scene on top of a darkened hillside near the house where the climax of the film occurs. The two act the part of a married couple to perfection and one not familiar with both of these actors' abilities might think them actually married.
Which two of the other character in the film actually are. Phoebe Cates is married to Kevin Kline in real life, and they have two children who also appear in the film. Particularly interesting is a scene in the middle of the film where each of the characters invited over to the party is supposed to give a verbal gift to the happy couple. Kline and his daughter do a sort of pantomime act to music that represents the turbulent past that Cumming and Leigh's characters went through. Though neither Kline nor his daughter say a word throughout the piece, it's quite clear what is going on. It is apparent that Kline's daughter inherited his acting ability. And Kline himself is an engrossing character as well, playing Phoebe's husband.
Since the two are married in real life, it might be easy to assume that their performances are just an extension of their marriage, but their relationship in the movie is a different kind. And many of their most dramatic scenes don't take place with one another. And the name of the game in this film is drama. Every character has their share of it and every actor succeeds in creating some of the most messed up minor Hollywood stars ever put on film. The cast is enormous for the film's scope and includes Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. Reilly, Parker Posey, Jennifer Beals, and John Benjamin Hickey. This film had quite a small budget and it is remarkable that Leigh and Cumming were able to assemble this diverse cast.
And since the movie was shot with a digital movie camera, The Anniversary Party stands out as one of the first feature films shot entirely on digital cameras. The use of digital instead of actual film seemingly freed the actors to engage in more acting than sitting around and the editor probably had years worth of tape to look at to assemble. But the fact that this film's visual technology was produced for a lower budget than most filmed features doesn't detract from its value. If anything, this movie represents what independent filmmakers can achieve with this relatively new technology. Although digital video is not as pleasing to the eye as actual film, the performances in this film quite neatly place into the background any deficiencies in that area. The Anniversary Party has a stunning cast revealing their problems in the most entertaining and powerful drama put on screen in years.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.