The Anniversary Party

The Anniversary Party (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Alan Cumming

The Anniversary Party is an “actorly” film. Written and directed by actors Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming, it’s “Dogme 95” meets L.A.

Handheld cameras, digital video, location shooting, naturalized acting, all calling cards of the Dogme 95 manifesto, are utilized here, brought in by Jennifer Jason Leigh after her venture shooting a “genuine” Dogme Film, The King is Alive.

Leigh introduces Dogme 95 to Hollywood literally and figuratively. The film is shot and set in L.A. and its characters are all Hollywood types (i.e. filmmakers, actors, writers). They utilize Dogme 95’s anti-Hollywood aesthetic guidelines (dreamed up by a cluster of Danish filmmakers) to illuminate the world of Hollywood and its denizen.

While the script focuses on the Hollywood milieu, the cast is populated by notable members of the “real world” Hollywood, including Kevin Kline, Gwynneth Paltrow, and the directors themselves. There are interesting appearances by a couple of faded 80’s stars. Jennifer Beals appears as Cumming’s best friend and Phoebe Cates shows up as Leigh’s best friend, a former film star turned mother. A sense of self-reflexivity abounds at times.

The film addreesses many subjects: friends, relationships, family, Hollywood. Yet motherhood is one of the strongest recurring themes throughout the film. Each of the main women characters seems somewhat defined by their attitude and relationship with motherhood. Leigh’s character shuns it; Cates’ character embraces it on the surface but ultimately is drowned by it; Jane Adams’ character is a new mother who is utterly neurotic about it until she gets high and forgets about it. Motherhood is an onus for all of them, whether it’s the thought or the reality of it.

The script features much clever repartee and equally many scenes in which each actor is given his or her chance to “act” — the choice types of scenes that seem to appeal to actors in which they are free to emote. Since each of the actors gets a turn, it truly is an ensemble picture. The performances are fairly strong, and the film is clever and well-made. A good experiment.

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