According to my dictionary, the word ‘party’ has two succinct definitions – a) ‘a social gathering of invited guests involving eating, drinking and entertainment’; with b) a formally constituted political group that contests elections and attempts to form or take part in government.’ Each definition, in varying ways, is relevant to a pair of movies I have viewed in recent weeks.
The initial offering, at first look, slotted cosily in with the second definition, but there was a fair amount of partying going on as well. The Communist Party of Russia was thrown into turmoil with the demise of a dictator on the 5th of March, 1953. Who was to step into his giant footsteps was the question that had to be resolved in the first of the duo of features, ‘The Death of Stalin’? Could it be the bumbling, stumbling Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the scheming master manipulator Khrushchev (a glorious Steve Buscemi) or the sinister, positively evil Beria (Simon Russell)? There would be no smooth transition here – it’d be even worse than the back stabbing that’s gone on at federal level here. In Russia it’s deadly. For the purposes of this movie it becomes high farce in guise; the actors seemingly having a ball with the gallows humour involved. It’s been reported as being Pythonesque, but it could never reach those absurd heights. For these guys human life is a mere plaything, taken away at a whim as their goon squads venture out each evening with their lists of candidates to expunge from society. If you were a fan of ‘The Thick of It’ you’d probably love this as it came from the same makers. I wasn’t. I didn’t.
Yep, the team under the direction of Armando Iannucci milk the situation for all it was worth and there were performances to relish, nonetheless than that from Jason Isaacs as the strutting alpha-male Marshall Zhukov, capable of making all the aforementioned quake in their boots. Rupert Friend is wonderfully over the top as Stalin’s mad as a hatter son; with Andrea Riseborough as his very, very worried daughter.
The movie had its fans amongst the critics, but there were few laughs in the audience I shared the viewing with. As the end approached the levity disappeared completely and I felt mild revulsion at the path it took. Perhaps it was the film coming to the conclusion that it was no laughing matter after all. I thought the whole thing went a step too far pushing the envelope of taste. It really, overall, didn’t hit the spot.
And it was some party in ‘The Party’, with the newly promoted spokesperson for health for her party, Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas), deciding to gather a few of her mates together to celebrate. As she bustles about the kitchen – no uber-deliveries for this dame – her hubby Bill (Timothy Spall), the epitome of sad-sackdom, is fiddling around with his music apparatus and looking decidedly out of sorts. It’s all up close and personal the way the movie is shot – warts and all in glorious black and white. Stratton and Sandra Hall both awarded this offering four stars and I heartily concur. Its humour is black as too, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Acerbic American guest April (Patricia Clarkson) is the outing’s scene stealer with her cliché driven partner, Gottfriedd (Bruno Ganz), not far behind her in the hilarity stakes. There’s a lesbian couple with an announcement. Martha (Cherry Jones) is not so sure about it, but the much younger Jinny (Emily Mortimer) can’t wait to let the cat out of the bag. Cillian Murphy has a boisterous time as a coke-snorting financial manager, ready to create mayhem with his concealed gun. And just where is his wife?
Finally Bill emerges from his funk to make an announcement of his own – the mother of all announcements and as the repercussions flow we have the party from hell and the answer as to why Tom is packing a pistol. Yep, it’s great fun.
Although the guests at Janet’s party might not have turned out to be the best of company for her, they certainly were for us the viewing audience. We just hope we never attend a soirée remotely like it. I suspect her tenure at the top end of party politics will be short lived.
Trailer for ‘The Death of Stalin’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukJ5dMYx2no
Trailer for ‘The Party’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wb4FF6lCqFw