Thursday, March 17, 2011

ABIGAIL'S PARTY (1977) - Mike Leigh

Abigail's Party is possibly the most depressing, spiritually draining mixer I've ever attended. I say after having lived in Los Angeles for five years. What starts out as stale chorus of suburban get-to-know-you banalities ("What do you do for work?", "Do you like olives?", "You enjoy being married?") gets grimmer as night wears on and the gin and tonics pile up. Simmering spousal animosities bubble beneath the party's polite surface. Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual" spins on the record player. Someone gets sick and throws up in the loo. Someone has a heart attack. In short, it's the perfect sad-sack shindig for the glass-half-full director Leigh to emcee.

Abigail's Party doesn't even take place at Abigail's party. In a devilish reversal of setting, Abigail's party is actually the teenage party next door to the middle-aged parental soiree we're trapped in for two hours. From the sounds of late '70s British punk and reggae jams that occasionally waft through the walls, Abigail's pad is the much hipper place to be. Typical Leigh to invite you to a mixer and then flip the script so you end up in the most miserable house on the block.

This is the first shot-on-video TV effort of Leigh's I've seen. The 3/4" U-Matic format kind of works for the material--basically filmed theatre--and kind of doesn't. At first, it feels like you're on a soap opera set. Later, like the set of Fawlty Towers or some old British sit-com. As with many of Leigh's works, I was glad I stuck it out, even if I barely escaped with a nasty soul-crushing hangover.

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