The Anniversary Party (R)

Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh are two of the most interesting and idiosyncratic actors working in film today, but their writing/directing debut only falls under the latter description. For this digital video-shot drama in which a Los Angeles couple (Cumming and Leigh) celebrate their wedding anniversary at home with friends on one long night, the two have assembled an impressive ensemble. Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. Reilly, and Jennifer Beals are also among those who appear in roles of varying size--and, as is the case of most films directed by actors, all do solid work. The big standouts are Jane Adams as a neurotic, doting mother; and an energized Cates, in a role obviously written especially for her, as an actress who quit the business after marrying a name star (played by her real life hubby Kline--and their screen children are played by their actual ones).

How unfortunate, then, that such an array of acting talent is trapped in such a mess of a movie. Cumming and Leigh's script can be divided in three sections of conflicting tone. The first act is a fairly observant and pointed satire of adult social rituals, as we see people feigning politeness to each other and engaging in vicious charades matches. Things get a lot stranger in act two, in which everyone takes Ecstasy and engage in all sorts of drug-induced shenanigans. The film then enters full-tilt Oscar clip mode in the final stretch, with lots of screaming and crying, most coming from the writers/directors/stars. Granted, they scream and cry quite well, but the efforts are all for naught when the histrionics exist in a complete emotional vacuum.