Best fictional parties
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I had the Three Dog Night song “Mama Told Me Not To Come” stuck in my head today, and it got me thinking about Boogie Nights, which played the song during Jack Horner’s totally decadent pool party. If you could attend any party from a movie, which would it be? I’m torn between the Boogie Nights bash and the Alpha Beta frat-house party from Revenge Of The Nerds. You know, the one with stair-diving and some brainless townie blowing fireballs, with catastrophic results. —Jamie Cook
For some reason, the movie party that’s always most stuck with me mentally is the barely-glimpsed outdoor Halloween party from Flatliners, of all films. It’s just tonal setup; the camera briefly moves by it on the way to finding the protagonists, who are up to no good. But hey, Joel Schumacher’s idea of a party that looks good on film is also my idea of a party that would be fun to experience—in this case, with a bunch of elaborately costumed “monsters” dancing around a bonfire. Really, though, I’d settle for any party that involves elaborate fancy costumes. The lovely costume ball from the end of Enchanted would be fine by me. Or hell, the one from Amadeus, where a drunken Mozart mocks Salieri. Rich costumes, freely passed bottles of wine, Mozart on the spinet, and ladies showing off their ankles… sounds like fun to me. (No, you can’t see my ankles. I’m not drunk enough for such ribaldry.)
To this day, I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder because in high school, I was never invited to a big parents-are-out-of-town house-party rager, which might be why the first party that sprung to mind was Jake Ryan’s in Sixteen Candles. If you’ll recall, after the party, there’s a pizza spinning on a turntable and a coffee table covered in beer cans: Seeing as how I love pizza and beer and music, this is already a promising shindig. Moreover, Jake’s parents are filthy rich, and everyone at the party seems to have little regard for their host’s personal property, so I wouldn’t mind donning Mrs. Ryan’s fur and pearls. But most importantly, the party seemed to feature a big cross-section of the school. Sure, the popular girls and the jocks are in attendance, but the nerds showed up as well, and the Donger and his girlfriend seemed to be having a great time too. Perhaps most essentially, the party broke itself up, with no police involvement.
If I were to rank the 10 best parties of my life, seven of them would be weddings—which makes sense, given the availability of free booze, good food, and good, boozy women. So when scanning my memory banks for memorable cinematic fêtes, it’s no surprise that the first thing that comes immediately to mind is the opening scene of The Godfather. As much fun as I’ve had at the weddings in my life, I’ve never been to one as opulent as this, where expensive wine is served by the pitcher, and the music is provided by none other than that smooth-as-silk crooner Johnny Fontaine. Even better, if you need a favor from the mafia kingpin throwing this soirée, he can’t refuse any request made on this day. Talk about fun and helpful.
Like Matthew Broderick’s ecstatic Beatles karaoke from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the legendary toga-party scene from Animal House helped instill a deep love of ’60s music in me as a kid. The thing is, I was a totally hyper-aware teenager (and fetal music critic) when Ferris Bueller came out, but I was still a wide-eyed little shit when I first saw Animal House. And the film’s insane, sweat-squirting, bacchanalian-house-party performance of The Isley Brothers’ 1959 R&B stomper “Shout”—done here by the fictional Otis Day And The Knights—showed me vividly just how great music was at its rawest and most primal. As for the near-nudity, promiscuity, and Belushi-inspired beer-swilling, I’d have to wait a few more years before I had a chance to sink my teeth into that kind of abandon. Come to think of it, I probably shouldn’t go back there anytime soon.
I’d like to go hang out with some grown-ups who are probably still just as drunk—albeit hopefully in a more subtle way—and say I’d like to go to basically any of the parties from the movie Holiday Inn. The 1942 movie features the power duo of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as an ex-vaudeville duo who open a nightclub in a country inn. The catch? It’s only open on holidays, though when it is open, it’s a song-and-dance blowout with only the classiest guests in attendance. I like a kegger as much or more than anyone else, but there’s just no way I could pass up an Astaire softshoe, a Crosby croon, or even a George Washington-themed minuet. Of course, the whole holiday theme (and the fact that the movie is so old) leads to a pretty shameful blackface “Abraham” number for Lincoln’s birthday that I’d probably shy away from, but for my money, there’s got to be no better fictional place to spend a New Year’s Eve with friends—and Bing Crosby.
A slew of ’80s films skewed my preconceptions of high school—j’accuse, Mssr. Hughes—where it seemed like zany antics were commonplace, parties were outrageous, and pan-clique unity could be achieved by a heartfelt speech and the subsequent slow solo clap that builds into thunderous applause. No, that’s not what four years in a Jesuit prep school would entail, as I later learned. As a kid, though, I remember being mesmerized by the party scene in Teen Wolf. Yes, there was a house full of kids—no adults to be found—boozing it up. But what hooked me was when master of ceremonies Styles led various ribald games with the assistance of a girl in lingerie. A girl! In lingerie! In front of everyone! And they were making out in closets and pouring Jell-O down a girl’s shirt! It blew my wee mind. Because my high-school experience failed to deliver something similar, I’d revisit Teen Wolf, so long as I was their age and not some creepy thirtysomething guy hanging out with the high-school kids.
Throughout the course of my adult life, I’ve tried enough kinds of alcohol to come to the conclusion that I don’t like any of it. It’s expensive, tastes bad, and makes people do things they later feel the need to apologize for. The appeal is totally lost on me. Fortunately, that’s never gotten in the way of me having a good time. I dance and sing karaoke stone sober, and I’ve spent plenty of great nights in rooms full of wasted folks. But for the sake of playing up my goody-two-shoes-ness, I’m side-stepping cinematic blowouts and choosing the nerds’ shindig in the video for “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”—before the Beastie Boys show up and ruin everything. Soda, pie, friends, and the absence of “bad people”? The only thing missing are board games. I vote for Risk.
The party at the center of 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait isn’t exactly revolutionary. In fact, it’s the same type of party that’s been held many times before in many of the movies already mentioned in this list. But Can’t Hardly Wait came in the midst of the late-’90s/early-’00s resurgence in high-school comedies (American Pie, Get Over It, Whatever It Takes, etc.). All the tropes are there: the nerdy guy becoming cool (via a karaoke cover of G’NR’s “Paradise City”), talk of sex and making out (mostly from Seth Green’s hilariously over-the-top wannabe-rapper), and the good guy (Ethan Embree) trying to get the girl (Jennifer Love Hewitt). But it’s fun and entertaining as hell, and helps elevate the film as one of the more entertaining installments in the glut of teen comedies from this timeframe. Plus, Jennifer Love Hewitt in her prime. Yes, please.
The Hollywood party scene in Annie Hall is one of the few where Woody Allen gets a little bit outside of his own head, if only as an excuse to miserably retreat once more. I don’t enjoy parties all that much, but some good, slightly ridiculous people-watching can make it worthwhile. Allen condenses that redeeming quality into a barrage of twisted one-liners: “All the good meetings are taken”; “Right now, it’s only a notion. I think I can get money to make it into a concept, and later turn it into an idea”; and of course Jeff Goldblum’s “I forgot my mantra.” Now, having your lover slyly charmed away by a horribly Hawaiian-shirted Paul Simon isn’t too appealing. But maybe that’s the price one pays for a setting in which you can introduce your friend as “my food taster” and get a straight-faced response.
The party scenes in Cameron Crowe’s movies are often the best part. I’m one of those people who really likes Elizabethtown, and I’d cheerfully attend Chuck and Cindy’s wedding gathering, where you can walk around an enormous hotel all weekend with free beer in visible sight. When I was in high school, though, I wanted to go to the party John Cusack is forced to act as the keymaster for in Say Anything. (I personally never attended any parties featuring people in chicken costumes, something I’ve always felt has been missing from my life experiences.) Despite its status as one of the ultimate party movies, though, I probably wouldn’t want to attend the party in Dazed And Confused: too many people trying to fight, and who wants to really climb that moon tower, anyway?
If you’re going to meet cute, do it in an ash heap. That’s where bonkers rich girl Carole Lombard first encounters William Powell at the beginning of My Man Godfrey, my favorite comedy ever; she’s on a scavenger hunt, and her big sister Gail Patrick has beaten her to the city dump (on Irene’s tip) to find “a forgotten man” to win the prize. Patrick offers Powell (who smokes a pipe, a clue to his upper-class roots) $5 to appear with her at the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel so she can claim the prize. Instead, he rebuffs her by accompanying Lombard, who then falls for Powell and hires him as the family’s butler. The party itself is a madhouse, the most screwball thing in a comedy that defines “screwball.” The Bullocks’ mother (Alice Brady) arrives with a goat, nattering away like she’s pumped full of helium. Hundreds of tuxedoed and gowned attendees rush around with bicycles, balloons, pulled-up fire hydrants, and an ice-cream cart. A colleague of the great bullfrog-voiced Eugene Pallette says, “This place slightly resembles an insane asylum.” “Well,” Pallette replies, “all you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people.” That, or a great party.
You guys and your wanting to go to “fun” parties! That’s not for me! I’m only happy when others are miserable, and that means what I really want to do is sit in the middle of the room as George and Martha snipe at each other during the post-party get-together at their house in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? It’s not as though they’d pay all that much attention to me anyway, with all of the angry heckling of each other, so I’d just get to sit on the sidelines and enjoy the sparkling dialogue of Edward Albee at its very finest. Or, barring that, I’d try to egg the two of them on until they killed each other or something, because who doesn’t want to go to a party that ends in murder?