The Anniversary Party (U.S.)

May 14, 2001
By Michael Rechtshaffen

CANNES -- Joining fellow thesps Ethan Hawke ("Chelsea Walls") and Arliss Howard ("Big Bad Love") in their Cannes behind-the-camera debuts, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming share both directing and writing chores for "The Anniversary Party," a confessional dramedy in the style of Kenneth Branagh's "Peter's Friends."

Taking place during the course of one relevatory night in the lives of a recently reconciled couple (Leigh and Cumming) and featuring a colorful ensemble comprised of their friends and colleagues, the picture boasts no shortage of tart repartee and sparkling performances.

There's plenty of opportunity for some sharp, entertaining character turns, given that those invitees include Gwyneth Paltrow as a movie star who's about to start a film based on novelist Cumming's stormy marriage to actress Leigh; Kevin Kline, playing Leigh's co-star in another picture directed by John C. Reilly; Jennifer Beals as a photographer and Cumming's ex-girlfriend; plus Phoebe Cates, Jane Adams and Parker Posey among the various significant others.

Obviously, Fine Line is hoping to attract audiences based on that guest list alone.

But as the wild night wears on, the sharp, satirical elements give way to the kind of gut-busting emotional blowouts that give structurally shapeless films written and directed by actors who are also starring in them a bad name.

Despite all the energetic camaraderie and some remarkably rich-looking digital video work by cinematographer John Bailey ("The Big Chill"), the party's over a lot earlier than the distracted hosts appear to realize.