Sunday, September 30, 2012

This Party is On: "It's My Party" (1996)

Eric Roberts proves once and for all that he is a better actor than his better known sister in this emotionally draining story.

Roberts and Gregory Harrison are lovers who break up soon after Roberts finds out he has AIDS. Their eventual separation is shown in tiny scenes in between credits in the opening minutes of the film. Roberts moves into another house, taking most of their mutual friends with him, and over a year later Roberts throws a giant two day party. He invites everyone he knows, from his estranged father to his agent (he is an artist and house designer) to Harrison, who has not had contact with him in all this time. Roberts has taken a turn for the worst, forgetting things, tunnel vision, and poor coordination. So why throw a party? Roberts plans to end his life at the end of the evening.

Director Kleiser, who also wrote this, takes a massive ensemble cast and keeps them reined in enough to be effective, but gives them enough freedom to be entertaining. His approach his very un-Robert Altman, where characters step on each other trying to get his attention. Here, the film is anchored around Roberts and Harrison, and the rest of the cast are friends and family having a hard time saying goodbye.

This would make an incredible stage play, easily, but the film itself never gets claustrophobic or boring in its very few sets. Gregory Harrison has also never been better as the film director who is semi-invited by Roberts, and pretty much told to leave by everyone who cares about Roberts. Eric Roberts plays Nick so well, you get the feeling you know someone who acts just like him. Nick is no saint, and Roberts' and Bronson Pinchot's jokes about his upcoming suicide are in bad taste, and the rest of the cast is ill at ease knowing the soon to be departed is finally stepping away.

As with any good film, knowing the outcome of the story does not ruin the journey getting there. Many actors have cameos, some have few or no lines, relationships and friendships sometimes are not clear, but I thought this filmed party was a lot like real parties in that respect. The overwhelming sadness of the final scenes should have you in tears, and probably because, as one character noted, Nick is able to wrap everything up with everyone he knows before he goes. This is not a statement about death with or without dignity, just an honest statement, and one we should follow in our daily lives. What would happen if the sun came up tomorrow and you or I were not here? Who are the people out there who would never know the impact they had on your life, and vice versa?

This is a powerful film with a powerful message, especially in these few months following the horrific attacks and our current war. It will be a long time before I can shake this film, and maybe I never will, but I never will l forget it. I definitely recommend this. (* * * * *) out of five stars.