ⓘ The Anniversary Party

The Anniversary Party

ⓘ The Anniversary Party

The Anniversary Party is a 2001 American comedy-drama film co-written, co-directed, co-produced by, and co-starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming, both making their respective feature directorial debuts.


1. Plot

Sally Nash and Joe Therrian are a Hollywood couple celebrating their sixth wedding anniversary shortly after reconciling following a period of separation. He is a novelist who is about to direct the screen adaptation of his most recent bestseller; she is an actress he has opted not to cast in the lead role, despite the fact its partly based on her, because he feels shes too old for the part. This decision, coupled with an ongoing dispute about their barking dog Otis with their strait-laced, non-industry neighbors, clean-and-sober writer Ryan and interior decorator Monica Rose, has resulted in an undercurrent of tension between the two as they prepare for the arrival of their guests.

Among them are aging actor Cal Gold, Sallys co-star in the romantic comedy film she presently is shooting, his wife Sophia, and their two young children; director Mac Forsyth, who is helming Sally and Cals film, and his anorexic, neurotic wife Clair; photographer Gina Taylor, whose relationship with Joe prior to his marriage and ongoing close friendship since troubles Sally; business manager Jerry Adams and his wife Judy; eccentric violinist Levi Panes; Jeffrey, Joes roommate - and lover - at Oxford; and up-and-coming actress Skye Davidson, whom Joe has cast in the role Sally believes deservedly is hers. In an effort to dispel the simmering animosity between them and their neighbors, Sally and Joe have invited the Roses as well.

The early part of the evening is devoted to charades and lighthearted entertainment. Following a series of toasts offered by the guests, Joe distributes the ecstasy Skye brought them as a gift. As it begins to take effect, the night deteriorates, accusations are made, secrets are revealed, and relationships slowly unravel. Complicating emotions triggered by the drug are the disappearance of Otis and a phone call from Joes father bringing tragic news about his beloved sister Lucy.


2. Cast

  • Gwyneth Paltrow as Skye Davidson
  • John Benjamin Hickey as Jerry Adams
  • Jennifer Beals as Gina Taylor
  • Alan Cumming as Joe Therrian
  • Phoebe Cates as Sophia Gold
  • Mina Badie as Monica Rose
  • Parker Posey as Judy Adams
  • Jane Adams as Clair Forsyth
  • Denis OHare as Ryan Rose
  • Michael Panes as Levi Panes
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sally Nash
  • John C. Reilly as Mac Forsyth
  • Kevin Kline as Cal Gold

3. Production

In an episode of the Sundance Channel series Anatomy of a Scene, the filmmakers discussed the project at length. Because of conflicting schedules, there was a period of only 19 days in which the entire cast - consisting of friends and actors with whom Leigh and Cumming previously had worked - would be available for filming. This prompted the decision to film using digital video, which Leigh felt also added a sense of immediacy and intimacy that would draw the audience into the action as party guests observing everything from the sidelines.

The order in which the toasts were made was determined before the scene was filmed, although with the exception of that offered by Skye, they were improvised rather than scripted.

Retired actress Phoebe Cates returned to acting for this one film, as a favor to director Leigh, her best friend.


4. Soundtrack

The films soundtrack includes "I Know a Place" by Petula Clark, "I May Never Go Home Anymore" by Marlene Dietrich, "Comin Home Baby" by Mel Torme, "There Is No Greater Love" and "A Lot of Livin to Do" by Sammy Davis Jr., "Stealing My Love from Me" by Lulu, "Troubles" by Blair Tefkin and the Adagio from the Sonata No. 1 in G minor by Johann Sebastian Bach.


5. Release

The film premiered at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival in May prior to its limited release in the US the following month. It grossed $4.047.329 in the US and $884.559 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $4.931.888.


6. Critical reception

In his review in The New York Times, Stephen Holden called it "an articulate, acutely observant film were fortunate to secure the services of master cinematographer John Bailey, who brings textured marvels of light and shadow to digital camerawork that is often crude in lesser hands. Its only when the guests head for the pool to play truth games on Ecstasy while Leigh and Cumming head for the hills for a Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? sparring match that the movie collapses under the weight of its artsy-fartsy ambitions. My advice on how to get the most from this Party is: Leave early."

In Variety, Todd McCarthy said the film "is well observed in many particulars but is too familiar in its basic trajectory to be fresh or compelling. All the roles are in good hands, and its mildly amusing in a voyeuristic way to watch the likes of Paltrow behave as we might imagine stars do at a party. Although the digital video imprint is still evident, ace vet lenser John Bailey has gone a long way toward making this look like a celluloid-shot picture, most successfully in the bright, daytime scenes, less so at night or under low lighting conditions, where the images sometimes appear washed out." The Anniversary Party currently holds a 61% rating on review aggragator Rotten Tomatoes based on 112 collected reviews with the consensus "This Party features a killer cast and many funny scenes, but the movie feels like nothing more than an excuse for the actors to emote."


6.1. Critical reception Awards and nominations

  • Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay - Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming nominee - lost to Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff for Ghost World
  • Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor - John C. Reilly nominee - lost to Steve Buscemi for Ghost World
  • Independent Spirit Award for Best First Film nominee - lost to In the Bedroom
  • National Board of Review Award for Excellence In Filmmaking winner
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