Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: The best party movies ever

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Does new movie '21 and Over' stack up against the party movie greats? Photo / AP
Does new movie '21 and Over' stack up against the party movie greats? Photo / AP

This week sees the New Zealand release of 21 & Over, a film written and directed by the writers of The Hangover which applies the tone and structure of the earlier film to a trio of college-age guys.

Aside from a few sporadic laughs, it's a pretty lacklustre effort that failed to win me over.

The experience reminded me of my reaction to last year's Project X, another recent comedy about young dudes rocking out all night.

My lack of enthusiasm for either of these films has inspired some fuddy-duddy panic in me. Am I too old to respond to party-hearty awesomeness in movies? Surely not. Some of my all-time favourite movies are party movies.

This line of thought has got me thinking about what I consider to be the best party movies ever.

1993's Dazed and Confused is a bona fide classic that is also arguably the best party movie ever made. It culminates with a decadent blow-out at the moon tower where the wide variety of central characters address their various conflicts.

Writer/director Richard Linklater was adamant that he didn't want to mythologise his high school years in the film, but he failed miserably - how could you not fall in love with the world he created?

Although it didn't exactly light-up (ahem) the box office when it was first released, it Dazed and Confused instantly garned a legion of dedicated fans whose love for the film has helped it endure in the twenty years since it was released. Yes, you are old.

Plus the film is so freaking awesome, everyone who saw it wanted to step up into the screen and party with Pink, Wooderson and the gang.

The non-judgemental plot and intensely likable characters are almost entirely absent from the relatively conservative likes of 21 & Over and Project X, both of which forgot to include anyone who isn't jarringly obnoxious.

Five years after Dazed and Confused, a high school party movie originally titled The Party was released straight to video in this country. Can't Hardly Wait (as it was retitled before just before release) follows an eventful end-of-school bash where The Quiet One (Ethan Embry) attempts to tell The Hot One (Jennifer Love Hewitt) how he feels about her.

It's not exactly original stuff, but a snappy script and a talented supporting cast (Seth Green; Lauren Ambrose) endeared this film to me, and it has held up well on repeated viewings. Co-directors/writers Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan went on to make another similarly underrated comedy, 2001's Josie and the Pussycats. Which is really quite funny. Not exactly a party movie, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

Can't Hardly Wait is also notable for its proto-McLovin party nerd character William Lichter, played by a teenage Charlie Korsmo, who was the little scamp in Dick Tracy and Hook.

Speaking of McLovin, 2007's Superbad must be cited here for its awesome party vibe. It feels like the success of that film lead directly to the likes of Project X and 21 & Over, but the latter films lack Superbad's creative approach to youthful raucousness and its gift for characterisation.

National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), the original hardcore party movie, is so anarchic in its approach to partying it makes all subsequent party movies feel positively conservative by comparison.

Director John Landis brought a party vibe to many of his other films, most notably The Blues Brothers, which I consider to be a party movie of sorts.

1984's Revenge of the Nerdsis in many ways the flipside of National Lampoon's Animal House, and must be cited for being a great party movie. If only for this scene.

A great party movie need not feature insane amounts of sloppy behaviour - another one of my favourite examples is Whit Stillman's 1990 indie masterpiece Metropolitan, which I've written about before in this space.

Set amongst the Christmas debutante ball season in New York, the film features several very civilised soireés in which Ivy League college students exchange witticisms in plush Upper East Side apartments. Although everyone is articulate and (mostly) polite, there is a sense of decadence to these parties (technically after-parties) that really spoke to me. Just wait until the bit where they do the Cha-Cha. It's off the hook.

No discussion of the best party movies would be complete without mentioning the 1968 Peter Sellers cult classic The Party. Like a lot of Sellers' work however, The Party hasn't aged particularly well, especially with regards to Sellers donning black face to play an Indian in the film. But it's still a party movie classic.

The 1977 adaptation of master writer/director Mike Leigh's play Abigail's Party was produced for the BBC, but I discovered it on video and it's better than most cinematic releases, so I'm considering it a movie for the purposes of this article.

The film is a darkly hilarious account of a night in the life of some suburban adults who have retreated to the home of Beverly (the insanely awesome Alison Steadman, whom Gavin & Stacey fans will recognise as Gavin's mum Pam) while the titular teenage party (which we hear but don't see) occurs next door.

Tensions simmer and grievances are aired as the night get boozier. With a single location, Abigail's Party naturally comes off a little stagey, but it's still a wonderful movie that far too few people have seen. You can watch it in its entirety here.

I haven't yet seen it, but an Australian play adaptation from the same era, Don's Party (NSFW) enjoys a similar reputation to Abigail's Party, and is high on my list of films I must see.

The early Tom Hanks vehicle Bachelor Party was a popular VHS rental for adolescent boys thanks to its surfeit of female nudity. But it's also a pretty classic '80s party movie. Plus it's genuinely odd seeing Hanks behave like such an ass.

Also, how weird is it that the opening of the trailers for both Revenge of the Nerds and Bachelor Party are so similar? Especially considering they were released the same year.

I remember being pretty impressed by the swearing in 1990's House Party, an extremely popular VHS rental when it was released in 1990. This was enough of a hit to inspire several sequels. Whatever happened to Kid'n'Play anyway?

Other films worth citing for their gleeful party action include Risky Business; Bright Young Things; The Cat's Meow; Donkey Punch; Almost Famous; Trading Places; Boogie Nights; Old School; American Pie and Goodby Pork Pie (the bit in the train carriage).


Agree? Disagree? What are you favourite party movies? Don't say Van Wilder!

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