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Wednesday 11 January 2023

Burl reviews Party Party! (1983)


Ha ha and hello, it’s Burl here to wish you a belated Happy New Year! And I’m doing that because I finally caught up to a New Year’s Eve-set youth movie that enjoys a near-legendary status among those who were in the right place and time, and at the right age, when it came along! And the name given to this formative production is not just a title, not merely a description, but serves also, even primarily, as a clear-throated, full-chested, arms-extended and head-tilted-back statement of intent: Party Party!

In the early 80s the horny teens were getting their due on screen: there was Porky’s, Spring Break, Hot Bubblegum, and oh so many more! It was all about music, sexy times, shenanigans, and consequence-free fun, and these pictures were being made all around the world! North London wanted in on the glory, so they all got together and created this picture, which takes place largely at a New Year’s Eve house party party! The host is a weedy nonentity called Larry, who organizes the party party unbeknownst to his parents and I suppose is meant to be the film’s Everyman figure! He’s played by Perry Fenwick, whom we may recall as a different sort of a party party host in Mona Lisa, ha ha!

Larry’s pals include an unbelievably awkward idiot called Toby, played by Daniel Peacock, who co-wrote the movie and later appeared in The Jewel of the Nile! His other buddy is Johnny, a grifter, a player and an inveterate advice-giver essayed by fiveheaded Karl Howman from The Long Good Friday! We meet this crew, or two of them anyway, as they race around Hendon in an alleged “fast, flash motor,” dodging angry motorcyclists, and then picking up Larry at a church! We concurrently meet a bunch of other characters who will be attending the party party also, including two gal pals, one a schlubby girl called Shirley, played by Caroline Quentin from Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire, and the other a more comely sort named Brenda, essayed by Kim Thomson from Screamtime and The Tall Guy!

Over at the station house we find a lady cop called Rebecca, played by Phoebe Nicholls, who was John Merrick’s mother in The Elephant Man; another cop played by skinless Frank from Hellraiser himself, Sean Chapman; and a third bobby called Terry, played by Gary Olsen from Outland, who announces his intention to get right pissed and follows that pledge up in spectacular fashion! And separate from all these folk is the movie’s main antagonist, Bobby, an enormous bearded bully boy played by Clive Mantle from Alien 3!

Just how old are these people, I wondered as I watched the movie! Ha ha, Larry seems like a teenager, more or less, but his good pal Johnny, with his Phil Collins-style receding hairline, seems a decade or more older! Toby, the gurning half-wit, has the ageless quality many intellectually impaired people possess; the coppers are at least in their late twenties or older; and the big bully Bobby might be forty or more! Ha ha! How did they all happen to be at this very same party party, anyway? It’s a true New Year’s mystery!

Another New Year’s mystery is the soundtrack! Ha ha, how on earth did they afford all these tunes? Somehow they convinced Elvis Costello to write and warble a theme song, and while it’s the most terrible song he ever did, it’s still amazing that it exists! There are songs by The Clash, David Bowie, Sting, Madness, The Stranglers, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and lots more! It makes sense that the movie’s not widely available to see these days, because ha ha, how could you begin to license all that? It’s an impressive feat for a clearly low-budget picture!

But aside from that, is the movie itself any good? Well, it’s an odd thing: I really strongly disliked almost every single character in this photoplay, and didn’t give, as they say over there, a toss about any of them! Toby in particular is almost supernaturally lacking in social graces, and many’s the time he gets called a berk or a prat! And he most certainly is those things! But somehow, by the end of the movie, when the parents return to find their house near-trashed and must be fed the outrageous lie that the party party was all the time in their honour, I found myself smiling slightly and hoping it all worked out, as stupid as the situation was!

My own first visit to Blighty wasn’t until 1985 or so, but I still remember the sort of dingy chill with which Thatcher’s England was permeated at that time, and this movie captures that miasma in absolute spades! There’s no art to the picture at all, no dimension to the characters (even to the suicidally lonely dowdy-girl), and not nearly the pep such a movie should have; but it has occasional bursts of energy, shows evidence of talent in the cast, and gets the feeling of a big drunken house party mostly right! It’s not a good movie by any stretch, but I can just about see why it would be so cherished by people who caught it at the right instant in their lives! But, ha ha, where did all those pies for the big pie fight come from, anyway? I give Party Party one and a half fast flash cars!

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