It’s My Party has a huge number of recognizable folks in its cast, maybe not A-listers but at least people you’ve seen countless times in movies or more often on television. There’s George Segal, Eric Roberts, Roddy McDowell, Marlee Matlin, Olivia Newton-John, Balki, Gregory Harrison (the Trapper John, M.D. guy), Margaret Cho, and on and on. Something about the assortment struck me as bizarre. I felt like I was watching an SCTV spoof or something.
Eric Roberts and Gregory Harrison are gay lovers in a long term relationship. Roberts tests positive for AIDS. Whether because he becomes more difficult or because Harrison is spooked—or likely both—they eventually break up, leaving Roberts feeling abandoned and resentful. (This is all told in pretty brief flashbacks.)
Roberts remains largely healthy for an extended period. However, he is then diagnosed with a brain disease that will not only kill him, but that will blind him and destroy his mind in a matter of weeks or more likely days.
With almost no time left when he will be functional, he decides that, one, he wants to commit suicide while he’s still able to, and, two, he wants to throw a big going away party for himself and invite all his closest friends and family. The bulk of the movie takes place over the day and a half of the party.
So It’s My Party tells the same basic story as The Event, which I wrote about a while back.
There is enough bad blood remaining between them that Roberts does not invite Harrison. Harrison finds out through the grapevine though, and overcomes his feelings of ambivalence and decides just to show up, no doubt aware that even though it’s not guaranteed to go well, he will always regret it if he doesn’t come.
Roberts is a positive, charismatic fellow, joking his way through his final hours, supporting and consoling those who are about to lose him as much as or more than they support and console him. The bulk of his friends are of the “flamboyant” gay type, with Balki being the most over the top in his performance as a bitchy queen. Harrison is something of an exception, and in fact seems uncomfortable and disdainful of the others’ flaming behavior. One senses that this is the reason most of them are blatantly hostile toward him and try to get him to leave, though they attribute it to his having cruelly broken up with their friend after his AIDS diagnosis.
Numerous little dramas and subplots play out at the party. There’s the obvious one of how Roberts and Harrison will deal with each other. But there’s also the fact that Roberts’s divorced parents (and we can infer it was a not at all amicable divorce) are seeing each other for the first time in years, that one of the guests is a devout Catholic who is appalled that no one is morally questioning the impending suicide, that two of Roberts’s close friends are a straight married couple with a gay teenage son who always idolized Roberts and Harrison and refuses to join in the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the death of someone they love, and many more.
I had a couple of thoughts about It’s My Party as it drew to a close. One was to make the natural comparison between it and The Event. And there I’m going to give the nod, by a decent margin, to The Event.
The Event isn’t a movie I loved, but it’s pretty good, and at times emotionally powerful. Some of the little stories within It’s My Party work better than others, Roberts gives a strong performance, and here and there the movie reached me emotionally to at least some degree. But it’s too often maudlin and clunky, there are pieces of dialogue that are cringeworthy, maybe because of the cast I kept thinking I was watching a made-for-TV movie at best or maybe an after school special, and there is no scene in the movie that comes close to the amazingly moving depiction of a mother (Olympia Dukakis) at the bedside of her dying son in The Event.
The second thing that came to mind in contemplating this film is that although gay people, in fiction and nonfiction, have not uncommonly responded to the AIDS crisis with impressive courage and character, I would think as a member of that community you’d have to have long since gotten damn sick of the fact that “dying with dignity” is the one virtue you and those you love are constantly being called upon to manifest.