Director Sally Potter is having a party, and you’re all invited. The dress code is monochrome, the theme is half-baked politics, and it’ll barely last an hour. Cillian Murphy will be there too - entering Potter’s single-location stage a quivering wreck, coked out of his mind and in possession of a gun.
He’s seemingly the whirlwind to ruin the calm of a tidy middle-class celebration hosted by a newly-elected minister (played by Kristin Scott Thomas). The rest of the guests are made up of a gaggle of disparate individuals; three couples, one being lesbian, one going through divorce, and one being Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall. In a clever subversion of expectations, it’s Spall’s sedate, depressive Bill that proves the catalyst for The Party to digress into a burgeoning series of arguments, by letting loose a damning secret or two.
It’s not subtle what Potter is trying to do here: The Party’s title has double-meaning, entrenching the endeavour in political fervour. Disputes between characters play out as non-sequiturial political allegories, an anthology of charged statements that bear no sting. It’s a chore to wade through the mass of political treacle to find glimpses of clarity. There’s certainly a point Potter is trying to make, but the agenda is lost among scenarios that are neither interesting, dramatic, or funny enough to leave a lasting impact.
Part of the problem is how pleased with itself The Party feels. It's clever, but not as clever as it thinks - the script coming across as smug rather than pointedly intelligent. The cast do the best they can with the dialogue, but in a film as stagey as this, smattering each word with clumsy allegory does them a disservice, the characters never fleshed out as either real people or politically-based archetypes.
At 71 minutes, it’s a short film. Perhaps Potter should have given the narrative time to unravel further, or at least spaced out the unravelling so as to not rush the ending. It’s an abrupt and unexpected closing shot, but one that repeats The Party ’s flaws: the reaction is a mere acknowledgement of how clever Potter is being, without ever feeling impressed by it.