Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Bruised and famous

Walking the fine (painful) line of Hollywood relationships.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Truth and fiction seasoned with conflict are served up by our hosts Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the writers, producers, directors and stars of The Anniversary Party. It’s their party and (as married Hollywood couple Joe and Sally Therrian) they’ll cry if they want to — or spar. Allusions of love seem to evaporate leaving few traces. But hatred wears through the thin veils of words, the brass-knuckle meanings cutting deeply.

Joe is a British writer directing his first feature film, an adaptation of a novel that only he denies is based on his relationship with Sally, an aging (by Hollywood standards) actress whose stock is on the decline. They’ve planned their sixth wedding anniversary party not so much as a jubilant celebration of their love, but as an opportunity to show the survival of their marriage — and to conduct business Hollywood-style. Though neither has invited family, the guest list features their litigious neighbors and Skye Davidson (Gwenyth Paltrow), a hot young starlet Joe’s courting for the lead of his film.

The party quickly becomes a stage for competition with friends, business associates and neighbors vying for each other’s affections — and for Hollywood status. Until Skye offers the couple the “gift of love,” a box of high-quality Ecstasy tablets. With the drugs, the party becomes one to remember — or perhaps one best forgotten.

Cumming’s and Leigh’s story, at its best, is a subtle satire of Hollywood values and the relationship of fact to fiction. Though the main character of Joe’s movie is based on Sally, Sally herself is viewed as too old and not beautiful enough for the role. Even 27-year-old Skye shaves years from her true age.

Kevin Kline plays Sally’s current co-star, Cal, with his real-life wife, Phoebe Cates, and their real-life children playing Cal’s. The plot even includes a play within the play as Cal and his daughter dance a homespun narrative ballet they call “The Ballad of Joe and Sally.” But directors Cumming and Leigh fail to take advantage of the reality effect of the digital video medium they shoot with — unlike Mike Figgis’ Time Code (2000) or Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000).

Focused on the essence of relationships as a seesaw between love and hate, this is not a “feel-good” movie. The Anniversary Party is not that kind of party.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

Visit the official The Anniversary Party web site at

E-mail James Keith La Croix at


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