. "The Anniversary Party"

"The Anniversary Party" is this year's "The Big Chill", a semi improvisatory grouping of a fine ensemble of players enacting a group of modern, perhaps Yuppie, boomer, "cool" friends in the Hollywood Hills.

In "The Big Chill" it was a reunion at a funeral that brought the group together. Here it's the 6th wedding anniversary of Joe and Sally Therrian (co-directors, co-writers Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh) a very Hollywood pairing of a writer about to direct his first movie and a fading actress. They've been separated for a year and throwing a party to make something of the fact that they've reunited. Very Hollywood!

Among their guests in their modern hillside pad are best friend Sophia Gold (Phoebe Cates) and husband-thespian Cal (Kevin Kline); Sally's director of the movie she's currently in, Mac Forsyth (John C. Reilly) with his willowy wife Clair (Jane Adams); successful, sexy still photog Gina Taylor (Jennifer Beals) who has a very unhidden lust for hubby Joe; Sally's friends Jerry and Judy Adams (John Benjamin Hickey and the inimitable Parker Posey); the next door neighbors with whom Joe is waging war over the barking of his dog; the not universally welcomed star of Joe's new movie, Skye Davidson (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a few others.

The ensemble is tight and connected. Enough to give the impression that many of these people, if not all, are pals off screen as well. It could very well be an assemblage of friends of actress-writer-director Leigh, who is venturing into this hyphenate territory for the first time. What better way than to write for and direct pals who will do their utmost to make you look good?

But it's more than a team of actors with that agenda that makes it work. It is pretty well scripted for a slice of life of this kind and a composite skill level high enough to stand on its own quite well. Every one here makes his or her ample contribution to the general angst.

In the very talkative story, party atmosphere goes awry, relationships hang in the balance, careers hang in the balance, friends come to support the vulnerable, temptresses come to test the wicked, and Hollywood, its foibles, allure and drive lives on in everyone involved.

Technically, the film is shot in digital video and holds up quite well on the big screen. Despite the fact that it's small in scope or, perhaps, because of it, it's probably destined for success, given its first-rate cast, like a prize or two at Sundance and given its small budget, a decent return on its money. My bet is that all the players involved did it for scale and for the fun of it. In Hollywood, work is fun and languishing between films is no fun at all.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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