The Anniversary Party

Every once in a while, actors feel the need to write and direct their own pet projects. Vanity project is a more applicable term for The Anniversary Project, written and directed by both Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Cumming and Leigh shot the movie on digital, giving it a stark, realistic, look. Everything is a little dirtier and less crisp than film, although the overall quality remains decent. The purpose of this is to add realism to the many stories within the plot. As actors, Cumming (Spy Kids, Josie and the Pussycats) and Leigh (The King is Alive, eXistenZ) have the ability to seamlessly shift from role to role, never losing credibility as they take on extremely disparate roles (especially Cumming). Their writing skills could use some improvement. The movie has a bare bones look to it with basically one set, and took less than a month to film. Presumably, the actors took a lot less than what they usually get for a film.

The Anniversary Party is like a long soap opera that somebody steps into. Sally Nash (Leigh) and Joe Thierran (Cumming) are celebrating their sixth anniversary with a large party. Just six months ago, they were separated, and not many people thought this party would be possible. Joe is a novelist, and is in the process of becoming a first-time director. He is adapting a novel of his to the screen. Sally is an actress, who, among other things is angry that she is not cast as the lead in Joe's movie, especially since everybody believes the woman in his novel is based on her. They are in the midst of a possible lawsuit by their neighbors Ryan and Monica Rose (Denis O'Hare, Sweet and Lowdown and Mina Badie, Cookies). They are leaving nasty messages on Joe and Sally's answering machine because of Joe and Sally's barking dog. Based on advice from Sally's lawyer, they invite the Rose's over to help patch-up the problems. Joe also invites Skye Davidson (Gwyneth Paltrow, Bounce, Duets), the young, beautiful actress he cast over Sally.

Then, Sally's current director Mac Forsyth (John C. Reilly, Magnolia, The Perfect Storm) and his Ally McBeal-thin neurotic wife Clair (Jane Adams, Wonder Boys, Mumford) arrive. Mac is not happy with Sally's performances in their movie, and neither is Sally's co-star Cal Gold (Kevin Kline, The Road to El Dorado, Wild Wild West). Gina Taylor (Jennifer Beals, The Last Days of Disco, Militia), Joe's best friend arrives, which causes more strain to Sally, who is unconsciously jealous of her. This adds up to a whole lot of tension at the party, and provides all of the actors a chance to display a wide variety of emotions. Leigh and Cumming wrote many of the roles for their friends, then cast them in the roles, so they end up playing exaggerated or slightly distorted versions of themselves (like Paltrow and Kline). Phoebe Cates (Princess Caraboo, Bodies, Rest & Motion) plays the character most like herself. She plays Cal's wife, who left her acting career to raise children. In real life, she married Kline and left acting to raise their kids. Her performance here shows is great, and hopefully, she will act at least part time in the future.

Leigh and Cumming then run out of steam and all these stories go nowhere. This happens about halfway into the movie, when somebody introduces Ecstasy into the equation. Many of the people take some, and all their emotions amplify, allowing for some histrionics. It's a chance for these people to act really sad, or really happy, really high, or really mad. It's a good exercise in acting for all the people involved (and they do a good job), but without a coherent direction, cannot hold the interest of the audience. All of the many plot threads just dangle, with Leigh and Cumming wrapping up some, albeit not very well. There are a huge number of principal characters, and to their credit, Leigh and Cumming flesh out each one into a distinct personality. However, some of the lesser characters (especially Reilly) do not have enough time to make a difference. Watching Sally and Joe's house is much more interesting. It is a gorgeous Neutra house in the Hollywood hills, with glass walls and large sections of open space. As the party progresses into the evening, the only interesting thing left is the house, which is pretty sad.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 54 minutes, Rated R for language, drug use, and sexuality.

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