Starring: Alison Steadman, Tim Stern, Janine Duvitski
Director: Mike Leigh
Running Time: 102 mins
Abigail’s Party is a British film about a group of friends who get together for some drinks while one of their number’s daughter throws a rowdy party down the road. The evening gets off to pleasant start, but soon takes a dramatic turn.
There have been many great dinner party movies over the years, from Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? to Perfect Strangers, but Abigail’s Party might just be the very best of all. A play in its truest form, this movie brings to life the story’s ingenious satire, with fantastic performances across the board in a both hilarious and sobering story of life in the middle classes in the modern world.
Things start off innocently enough. A group of friends get together for a few drinks and engage in polite, albeit fairly inane conversation. What’s really impressive about Abigail’s Party from the get-go, however, is its characterisation, making light work of introducing you to each of the main players’ surprisingly complex personalities.
There’s the host Beverly, who’s always trying to please her guests. Her husband, Laurence, with whom she doesn’t seem to get on, as well as three guests, husband and wife Ange and Tony, as well as Sue from down the road, whose teenage daughter is throwing her own party.
All five of the characters are completely normal on the outside, but as the film goes on, they begin to represent five fascinating embodiments of the modern middle class.
Much of the film’s first half is taken up with the characters chatting about a series of mundane topics, while disquiet grows about the rowdiness of Abigail’s party down the road. For the best part of forty-five minutes, nothing seems to happen in this movie, but that’s one of the reasons that it’s so, so good.
A hilarious and uncomfortably familiar commentary on the tendency of so many people to lock themselves into prescribed roles, pretending to enjoy themselves at an inane get-together as they try to ‘fit in’ with the community, Abigail’s Party is a brilliant perspective on the reality behind the mundane everyday that so many of us are used to sitting through.
With such strong performances, even the dullest dialogue is engaging, but it’s the fact that the characters really are just droning on about tedious topics trying to fill the hours before they can finally leave which makes Abigail’s Party such an enjoyable and uncomfortable watch.
However, when things take a turn for the dramatic, we begin to see the realities of everything underneath the surface become exposed. Whether it’s through snide, back-handed comments or full-blown arguments, Abigail’s Party brilliantly opens up the Pandora’s Box of repressed emotions in these characters, but without going overboard.
You’ll say that Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? also takes a similar direction in its latter stages, but Abigail’s Party still retains its satirical sense of humour all the way through, proving just as funny if not even more uncomfortable in the second half.
Well-contained within the confines of just one living room, Abigail’s Party is an impressively measured and yet brilliantly original take on the dinner party movie. Insightful, hilarious, well-acted, well-written, and featuring sobering and uncomfortably familiar critiques of modern middle-class life, the movie is a masterpiece of mundanity from start to finish. So, that’s why I’m giving it an 8.3.