Joe and Sally (Cumming and Leigh) are celebrating the sixth year of their rocky marriage. He's been back for a few months from an apparent break-up, and they're currently happy with each other. He's a novelist, directing his first film, based on his most successful book. She's a former star actress, dealing with getting old in a youth obsessed business. Together they have a dog they treat like their child and a nice home in the hills of southern California.
The party guests include; Kevin Kline as Cal Gold an aging movie star currently making a film with Sally. Phoebe Cates as Sophia gold, a former actress who has quit that life to raise their kids. (The kids are played by the real life couples kids.) John C. Reilly is Mac Forsyth, the stressed out director of Cal and Sally's film. His wife Clair, a neurotic actress and mother is played by Jane Adams. Joe's life-long friend Gina is portrayed by Jennifer Beals. Skye Davidson, movie star and the lead in Joe's film, is played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Some of the funniest scenes in the film revolve around the guests nobody wanted to show up, the neighbors (Denis O'Hare and Mina Badie). Ryan and Monica Rose are having some serious dog issues with the couple, and were only invited to possibly calm the situation down a little. Oh yeah, and Parker Posey turns in another eclectic performance as party guest #6 aka Judy Adams. I'm not sure what her character does, I think she's just here because Parker is in every independent film. (Isn't she?)
Does any of this sound familiar? Everyone seems to be playing alter-egos of themselves. If they're not making movies most of them are creative types, novelists, photographers and such. In some cases the characters are so close to the real life actor it's frightening. It works though, and it makes the improv'd scenes better. Joe (Cumming) is dealing with his first directing job, Sally (Leigh) is in her wanning years as a lead actress, Sophia (Cates) has fooled herself that raising kids is what she wants to do, and Skye (Paltrow) is living with being the next big movie star. Who knows if these are the actual thoughts and feelings of these people, but I'm sure it's ideas that they have dealt with.
And that seems to be the excuse for this film. A way to exercize some demons for these hard or hardly working actors and actresses. The films dialogue is full of their philosophies and observations on life, love and the job of working in showbiz.
"The Anniversary Party" only contains a few key situations; the guests arriving, the guests getting to know one another, a game of charades, the presenting of the gifts, and the high times after taking some ecstasy. The film is visually sparse, consisting mainly of people talking in and around the house, with muted colors due to the use of digital video.
First time feature film directors Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh do a good job of reigning in the performances of the various actors. This film is all about the performances. The characters emotions run high in various states, from the cutting humor of the first act to a bitterly harsh finale. This is a film for people who enjoy actors, acting.