starring Eric Roberts, Margaret Cho, Lee Grant, Gregory Harrison
written and directed by Randal Kleiser
by Walter Chaw The only way to explain how disjointed and patchwork is Randal Kleiser's It's My Party, is by presuming out loud that the director is trying to simulate the vertiginous feel of a weekend of revelry culminating in the auto-euthanasia of a mortally ill man. As it is, the picture can only be taken in terms of theory and possibility--the piece, as it sits extant, is puerile in a self-obsessed sort of way, from performance to scripting to organization. The presence of Bruce Davison in a minor role serves mainly to remind that there are better films out there about the AIDS epidemic in its early days, recalling Longtime Companion (starring Davison) and the genuine emotions found therein that stand as sharp indictment of the dreadful, manufactured pathos of It's My Party. Any movie trying this hard to get me misty is a lot more likely to make me angry.
More's the pity, as It's My Party is ripe with thematic possibilities, from existing in a plague culture to the plight of homosexuals in the workplace to, most obviously, issues of suicide among the terminally ill. The picture skirts these issues, along with the more mundane considerations of interpersonal relationships, the central conflict of ex-boyfriend Brandon (Gregory Harrison) returning as convenient and poorly-developed as Nick's reunification with his estranged father (George Segal). Every blue moment is announced by someone gazing wistfully towards the horizon, marking It's My Party as shameless and hysterical; the question with currency is why Kleiser needs to try so hard to make the death of a loved one seem sad. In its defense, the picture does use a cut off Milla Jovovich's debut album with a good ear and a nice sense of pace--a glimpse, if you will, of the sort of grace that the rest of the picture so sorely wants.
On MGM's DVD release, It's My Party has, for lack of a better description, the appearance of a film released in the 1980s--a peculiar thing, as this film actually came out in 1996. The image is wan and limp, possibly a reflection of the gallows tone affected by Kleiser--possibly, too, a reflection of the low-budget origins of the source. Edge enhancement is minor if noticeable in a handful of scenes in this 1.85:1 anamorphic video transfer, but its shortcomings are never such that they become a distraction. The Dolby 5.1 audio mix leaps around the front channels with vigour while surround channels are ignored for the most part. A dialogue-driven film, the lack of atmospherics isn't much of an issue, though the rollicking party atmosphere suggests a great many missed opportunities for a rear-channel workout.
A multitude of extras for this official Special Edition begins with a feature-length commentary featuring Kleiser, Roberts, producers Joel Thurm and Gregory Hinton, and, occasionally, Gregory Harrison. The main revelation of the piece is that the film is based on the last days of Harry Stein, Kleiser's ex-lover, and that the project was so important to everyone involved that they worked for scale--admirable, but more interesting is the suggestion that in 1996, Harrison, Roberts, Pinchot, Cho, Newton-John, et al, could demand anything more than scale. Throughout, Kleiser reveals that many of the photos and artwork decorating Nick's house are authentic relics of Stein and their life together--a revelation a little touching, I guess, but a lot more unsurprising. Thurm acts as something of a master of ceremonies and Roberts acts as something of a jerk ("I've been around homosexuals all my life. I grew up in the theatre, you know"). The commentary is as self-reverential and maudlin as the film, but it's edited better.
A 2-minute featurette about the blocking of Harrison and Roberts's kiss makes a mountain out of a molehill that, like the movie, draws a lot of attention to something that shouldn't be so shocking--particularly for a gay director and actors performing in a gay film. You draw this much attention to something and you tend to demean it--I'm thinking a little of the "South Park" episode where the townspeople celebrate a school nurse with a dead embryo on her face: Just let it go, for God's sake, you're not nearly so daring as you think. A second featurette of a walkthrough of Stein's home, intercut with a few snapshots from his death party, verges again on the poignant but, for the most part, is likely more interesting for people who actually know who these people are. A third featurette is another home movie of Kleiser meeting with composer Basil Poledouris on his boat, showing how a syrupy piano tinkle evolves into a syrupy piano-tinkle movie score. A photo gallery compares photos from the actual party and It's My Party, shots of Greece, and storyboards, and fifteen deleted scenes, un-remastered, show themselves to be superfluous at best--demonstrating more of Kleiser's ridiculously amped-up dialogue and pulpit-splintering pronouncements ("What about the Hippocratic oath?!"). The film's theatrical trailer and a DVD credits scroll round out the disc. Originally published: July 7, 2003.