Anniversary Party [2001]

It's easy to be skeptical when a couple of well-connected actors throw a script together, start shooting their fabulous friends with digital cameras, and call it a movie. But Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming, who bonded in Cabaret on Broadway, have crafted a rough little gem in The Anniversary Party. Influenced by Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Player, it's a devastating portrait of a fragile marriage and a perceptive look at life in Hollywood. The characters are based--to an eerie degree--on their Hollywood counterparts: Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates are a Shakespeare-quoting actor and his retired actress wife; Gwyneth Paltrow is a rising young starlet; etc. Leigh is an actress on the way down, and Cumming, a best-selling author and up-and-coming director, is the sexually ambiguous husband with whom she has recently reconciled. The titular party is to celebrate their sixth anniversary, and revelations about the characters accumulate as the evening progresses from a tense session of charades to an ecstasy-pill-fueled blowout by the pool. The screenplay combines brittle humor with melodrama and consists of more talk than action (as in the Dogme films that inspired it), but the proceedings are rarely less than compelling even if the characters, for the most part, aren't exactly the most likable bunch. As a result, Jennifer Beals ends up stealing the show from the bigger names in the cast simply by emerging as the most genuinely human character--the one who actually showed up to honor her friends' commitment rather than to advance her career. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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