Friday, June 22, 2001

Hollywood be thy name

Movie: The Anniversary Party

Posted on Fri, Jun 22, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 3.00

"The Anniversary Party" is a movie that tackles the important issues - or at least the issues that are important to people who make movies.

In their first foray as a writing/directing team, Cumming and Leigh cast themselves as a West Coast power couple who end their yearlong separation in time for their sixth wedding anniversary. To celebrate, they invite their friends -- about half of whom work in or around the film industry - to an at-home celebration that turns into a group portrait of L.A. malaise.

The root causes of the festering angst? Script deals. Casting woes. Creative impotence. Interior-decorating decisions. Oh, and some bothersome extras like infidelity, family planning, addiction and death.

Cumming and Leigh wrote the film specifically for their conscripted ensemble - which includes Kevin Kline, Parker Posey, Gwyneth Paltrow and Phoebe Cates - and shot it in 19 days at a house in the Hollywood Hills. The result plays like an improvisation exercise in which the only directive was "riff on whatever's less than 5 feet from your nose."

"The Anniversary Party's" tone wanders from overly affectionate softball to overripe gravitas, and its dialogue is often painfully amateurish. Though most of the supporting performances are actually glorified cameos, they're still the main reason to keep watching. Jane Adams, who was such a treat in Todd Solondz's "Happiness," has a standout turn a neurotic actress and mother whose hilarious mood swings are tied to her ingestion of heaping doses of Xanax.

Director of photography John Bailey ("Ordinary People") does an admirable job of making this digital-video quickie look competitive with the celluloid standard. (The flaws of the tape medium are mostly detectable when the camera is in motion.) Yes, you can shoot a professional feature on DV in just under three weeks. Finding a deserving story to shoot is a bit trickier.


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