Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) has just been promoted. She's the brand new shadow health minister. And after reaching the pinnacle of her long political career, a celebration is in order. A small soiree in her London home with her nearest and dearest.
Janet's biggest supporter is her husband Bill (Timothy Spall). But as the party begins, it appears Bill's not really in the mood for celebration. Instead, he's camped out in the living room drinking heavily and playing his stereo. Janet ignores him - she's in the kitchen fielding constant phone calls of support, in between whipping up some canapes for the party. The first guests arrive and right off the bat the inklings of trouble appear.
The first to arrive is old friend Jenny (Patricia Clarkson), who rocks up with her peculiar boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz). The pairing seems strange, Janet is a take-no-crap lefty from way back; Gottfried is a new-age crackpot. The next guest is Tom (Cillian Murphy), a well-to-do banker, who appears nervous and within moments of arriving is paying frequent visits to the bathroom. Rounding out the guestlist is Martha (Cherry Jones) who is joined by her pregnant partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer).
What follows is an absurdist delve into the dark as revelations slowly come to the surface and all is revealed as not so cheery with the party-goers. Janet is exchanging racy text messages with a lover; Bill announces he's got a dire diagnosis. It all races along, secrets unravelling, relationships on the brink, to a bizarre and somewhat silly climax.
Filmmaker Sally Potter's sharp and short film (it clocks in at a mere 71 minutes) feels a lot like a one-act play. Shot in black and white, the result is dark and shadowy creatures seemingly trapped in Janet and Bill's house, the personal failures of these outwardly-appearing successful people simmering to the surface. There are some fine performances, most notably Patricia Clarkson's Jenny with her often hilarious and witty retorts, and from Kristin Scott Thomas whose Janet is also very good.
A lot of the fun comes from a script that zings along, firing laugh after laugh. The types of things the guests reveal are the types of things people always reveal in films like this - messy, human things, but there's enough inventiveness to keep you interested. The biting commentary on everything from modern politics to the tedium of long-term relationships also helps. The Party probably won't stay with you for long, but for the laughs, it's worth putting your name on the guestlist.