February 12, 2013
One of the brilliances of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is the way that it accurately depicts a party. I first read it in high school, when I was just starting to experience that unique party sensation – the getting tipsy and then drunk, the excitement and movement and confusion that swirls through a good house party. I read it again in college, when I was entrenched in college raging, and then again after college, when the parties had continued but absorbed the weight of semi-adulthood.
Each time I read it, I was struck by this line, spoken by Nick as he moves through a party at Mertyl’s house: “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” That’s what it is, isn’t it? Within and without, up and down, excitement and then sadness and then laughter and excitement again all moving like water through kitchens and hallways.
Or, it’s like this: “People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away.”
Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby comes out on May 10th, and frankly, I’m nervous about his ability to nail the glittering sadness of Fitzgerald’s parties. My nervousness is compounded by how infrequently party scenes are done right in movies. In an act of hope, I’ve compiled this list of 5 rare movies that have aced the party scene. Let’s have a drink and review:
In this scene, Andrew Largemen (aka Zach Braff, of course) gets fucked up and watches the party from the couch. Then, gradually, he’s swept into it. At first, there are clear lines and things make sense, and then everything blurs and people fall in love with each other and it’s just images: shots, bodies, dancing, making out, couches, the basement exploding.
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Celeste (my dear Rashida Jones) is angry and sad when she goes to this Halloween party. And the result is completely real: she drinks too much, she looks like a mess, she connects with someone she’d previously rejected just because he’s there and she wants revenge and validation. Bonus here for an accurate party with actual, bona-fide adults: people in their thirties and beyond get dressed up and too drunk, too!
I have to state an unpopular opinion: I’m really not a huge fan of this movie. I think, as a whole, it’s over-rated. I’M SORRY GUYS.
However, I do have to give it its party scenes (and especially this one – even this self-proclaimed hater is into Michael Cera singing). This is just what it was like to go to a house party in high school – confusion and hormones and new sensations and fear. Superbad nails it.
The Social Network
This is a movie about the creation of Facebook, but it’s also about the college experience. As such, the movie includes parties of all kinds, from poorly attended Caribbean night at AEPi, to clubs, to drug-laden California house bashes. Each one is done right. There’s a desire to get drunk and then an ability to lose yourself that mirrors the trajectory of the movie’s plot, and it feels real. We’ve all been to these parties.
Fairhaven is a small indie that came out in 2012 to much critical acclaim but little box office business. Its biggest draw is Chris Messina (I know. He’s everywhere.) who here plays a hard-partying, lonely guy who comes back to his hometown for his father’s funeral. The star of the movie, though, is Tom O’Brien (he also wrote and directed), who masterfully depicts the blur, excitement, and sadness of heavy partying.
In one scene – which is very reminiscent of the aforementioned moments in Garden State – O’Brien and Messina go to a strip club, and afterwards continue the night at a stripper’s apartment. There, everything goes out of focus as they swig from a bottle, turn up the music and ignite the living room. O’Brien’s character, ultimately, is left out, and he watches the movement from the couch, feeling reality ebb and flow around him.
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