Monday, September 28, 2015

#1,869. Don's Party (1976) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Bruce Beresford

Starring: John Hargreaves, Pat Bishop, Graham Kennedy

Tag line: "What a helluva night!"

Trivia: First major acting role in a feature film for Australian Television personality Graham Kennedy

October, 1969. A general election is underway in Australia. Anticipating a victory for the underdog Labour Party, school teacher Don Henderson (John Hargreaves) and his wife Kath (Jeanie Dryan) decide to throw a party. Among the attendees are John’s outspoken friend Mal (Ray Barrett) and his oft-depressed significant other, Jenny (Pat Bishop); Simon (Graeme Blundell), a meek accountant, and his pretty but naïve wife Jody (Veronica Lang); Mack (Graham Kennedy), a wannabe photographer whose wife just left him; Cooley (Harold Hopkins), a womanizing lawyer, and his curvaceous 19-year-old date, Susan (Claire Binney); and Kerry (Candy Raymond), a sultry artist whose dentist husband, Evan (Kit Taylor), is most definitely the jealous type.

As the alcohol flows and the election results roll in, gentle ribbing gives way to angry insults and innocent flirtations lead to adultery. Before the night is over, more than one marriage will be teetering on the brink of collapse.

Based on a 1971 play by David Williamson, Don’s Party is a very funny movie. After throwing back a few beers, Cooley confesses to Mack that he once slept with his now-estranged wife. Not missing a beat, a nonplussed Mack, in turn, admits that he knew all about the tryst because he was in the bedroom closet shooting photos of it, which he now sells for a profit.

Of course, with it dealing so openly with relationships, the film also has its share of drama. On more than one occasion, a couple will “air their dirty laundry”, often quite loudly. Toss in a moment or two of frontal nudity (both male and female) and plenty of sexual innuendo, and you have a smart satire that takes aim at politics, marriage, art, and the middle class; as well as a bawdy sex comedy that is as titillating as it is thought-provoking.

Like many movies based on a play, Don’s Party can be a bit too talky for its own good. What saves the film, though (apart from its clever screenplay, which Williamson himself penned), is the cast that director Beresford assembled. Graham Kennedy is especially good as the party’s lone single attendee, as is Pat Bishop, who, though stuck in the background for most of the movie, has one very poignant scene late in the film.

Thanks to them, and the rest of the cast, what could have been a stage-bound, dialogue heavy snooze fest is instead vibrant and fascinating.

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