Parties get a lousy rap in movies. Really, how often do you get to see characters having unfettered fun? More often, they’re moping and feeling alienated (see “Garden State”) or wasted out of their minds (see “Kids”) or feeling let down (see “Swingers”) or unearthing dark, long-kept family or friendship secrets (see “The Celebration”).
Parties are cinematic shorthand for decadence and overindulgence — and why does that always have to be so bad? In honor of tonight’s celebrations of the year to come, here are a few film parties we’d actually like to attend.
“Dazed and Confused” (1993)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Like, I’m guessing, many of you, I had warm, fuzzy feelings toward Austin long before ever getting to go there (and in the dozen or so trips since, it has yet to disappoint), all thanks to Richard Linklater’s landmark high school movie. “All I’m saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself,” says Jason London’s Randall “Pink” Floyd, neatly limning the film’s refusal to honeyglaze it’s portrait of an age and an era like some holiday ham. Which is why, perhaps, it all looks so tangible and welcoming, particularly the impromptu kegger at the moon tower, which brings together most of the ensemble cast to fight, flirt, philosophize and abuse substances into the small hours of a warm summer night. As a hopeless nerd in high school, I always empathized most with the trio played by Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp and Marissa Ribisi, prone to lingering on the sidelines and overintellectualizing everything — Mike’s (Goldberg) confession as to why he’s giving up his goal of being an ACLU lawyer because he doesn’t like people is exactly the kind of deadly earnest, extremely silly statement I’d have made at age 17. They’re not party people, but head out to the kegger anyway in search of some “worthwhile visceral experience,” and get more than they bargained for — a brawl, the promise of a relationship and a date with Matthew McConaughey. All right, all right, all right.
“The Thin Man” (1934)
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
For occasional detectives and eternal drunkards Nick and Nora Charles, life is a party. Nora’s father died and left them an inheritance that allows Nick to quit the private eye game and devote his life to his two great loves: Nora and whatever liquor’s in his glass at that particular moment. Returning to New York after a lengthy stay in California, the Charleses are drawn into a murder mystery involving another wealthy family and their assorted mistresses, business partners, lawyers, accountants, leeches and low-life associates. Nick is reluctant to get too involved in the case because, as he puts it, “It’s putting me way behind in my drinking.” To economize his time, he combines both of his pursuits and invites all the suspects to the sort of lavish dinner party that only happens in period murder mysteries, a black-tie affair where everyone has something to hide and the whole case is laid out in one lengthy, borderline incomprehensible monologue. Of course, in this case, said monologue is delivered, like all of his lines, with bottomless wit and verve by William Powell. Who other than the actual murderer wouldn’t want to get to sit around that table, smashed on highballs, listening to Powell and Myrna Loy coo and banter? No wonder they made five “Thin Man” sequels. Nobody wanted the party to end.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
Directed by Blake Edwards
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is like an Epcot Center version of urban bohemia, in which waking up disheveled in the late morning still involves having an impeccably made-up face, in which overeager suitors are easily stymied by a closed door, and in which Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard are about the most wholesome call girl and kept man you’ll ever find. That’s all part of its naïve charm, culminating in the party Holly Golightly throws, cramming dozens of people into her unnervingly spacious Manhattan apartment. Everyone’s fabulously dressed and dancing, and they take their liquor like it was laced with acid and Ketamine — one woman apparently spends the whole soiree laughing and then crying at her own reflection in the mirror. A couple’s making out in the shower, the phone’s ended up back in a suitcase somewhere, an attendee takes a drunken face-plant, and a Brazilian millionaire shows up out of the blue. And then there’s Hepburn herself, the waif as epicenter of all this “wildness,” navigating the crowd, cigarette holder bobbing above her like a palm frond. Who are all these people? Where did they come from and where do they go? Even if they end up sleeping off those cocktails in a gutter, you know they’ll look great once they dust themselves off and make it home safely — it’s just that type of movie.
“Lost in Translation” (2003)
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola would go on to capture grander, giddier, more lavish and more cutting (after all, the peasants were starving) scenes of celebration in “Marie Antoinette,” but it’s “Lost in Translation”‘s intimate neon-lit night out in Tokyo that’s always had more resonance for me. You don’t see so many odes to those in-between hours spent in hotels in places you don’t know and aren’t given enough time to really get to — though this year’s “Up in the Air” has a doozy, with its Young MC-led tech conference bash — where you huddle with the few people you’ve met and form tentative exploratory expeditions. Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), drifting in their hotel limbo, are lost and lonely but also freed from the constraints of their relative social strata. They can be friends, despite his stardom and her youth, and they can spend an evening in bars and karaoke joints, running through pachinko parlors and hanging out, late night, in someone’s living room. Their night is strung together with a series of ellipses — where does Charlotte’s pink wig come from? — and floats delightfully free, both characters’ burdens and melancholy temporarily lifted. Maybe that’s why it ends in the sleep that’s been eluding them both, as Bob carries a sleeping Charlotte back to her room and tucks her into bed.