Directed by Sally Potter (R)
A friendly celebration swiftly turns ugly.
Sally Potter’s new comedy is “a master class in all that a filmmaker can squeeze from the most basic theatrical concept,” said April Wolfe in The Village Voice. The British writer-director has simply placed several characters in a room, given them opposing motivations, and let the sparks fly. The occasion is the celebration of a career milestone for the hostess, and Potter uses it to examine her characters as archetypes, not people. It becomes “dizzying fun” to see her party-from-hell implode into tears and rage. These are people “so impeccably civilized” that they cope with every bombshell revelation by intellectualizing it, said Katie Rife in AVClub.com. That “works wonders for the dialogue”—even when it drains energy from the drama. Still, the film makes full use of its “unimprovable cast,” said Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. As the evening’s honoree, Kristin Scott Thomas is “first among equals,” but Patricia Clarkson is “sublimely withering” as the hostess’s cynical best friend, while Emily Mortimer, Timothy Spall, and Cillian Murphy all do their share to ruin the gathering. It’s a satire that stings and, at just 71 minutes, “knows not to overstay its welcome.”