It's My Party

on March 22, 1996 by Kim Williamson
   One of the few studio releases that screened at this year's Sundance, this dying-of-AIDS film by the close of its opening credits has portrayed the happy days from a romantic relationship between two men, Nick (Eric Roberts) and Brandon (Gregory Harrison), the discovery that one is infected with HIV, subsequent changes in emotions and behavior for each lover, and the move toward breakup. Other than a "whew" response, the audience is left with little, and certainly not enough information about who these two men are and why we should care about them. In a century-closing decade crammed with real-life tragedy, writer/director Randal Kleiser makes the mistake of thinking that a fictional character who's dying will automatically elicit viewer sympathy. It's an error that a far less experienced filmmaker, the late Cyril Collard, did not make in the similarly themed yet far more devastating 1992 film "Savage Nights." But Kleiser, with almost a dozen films on his resume, has plenty of time left to recover.
   Like its patient, though, "It's My Party" never does. Leaping a year ahead, the story cramps to a crawl as Nick learns that he has untreatable brain lesions that will leave him a vegetable within a matter of days. He asks friend Tony (Paul Regina) to help him die with dignity via drug overdose, but first he schedules a full-day party that, for no narrative reason, stretches to two. Nick's mother (a fine Lee Grant), estranged father (George Segal), sister (Marlee Matlin) and best friends (Bronson Pinchot, Margaret Cho) all turn up to help him "celebrate" the life he had, but--as if this were a suffering-hero love story--the centerpiece is the arrival of Brandon, who tries tirelessly to effect a last-minute rapprochement with his former lover. There are numerous references to some secret to their falling out--each blames the other for something that happened--but despite several flashbacks the secret is never revealed and ultimately would have been of no consequence anyway.
   Likely attracted by the project's good intentions, a number of experienced behind-the-camera pros have lent their talents, but none to any remarkable effect (especially the lensing of German expat cinematographer Bernd Heinl ["Bagdad Cafe"], who's unable to make the production look anything except bargain basement). For those in the gay community who've witnessed deaths from the effects of AIDS, "It's My Party" will call up those sadly moving memories without adding anything of consequence; preaching to the converted, "It's My Party" is likely to leave most other audiences sadly uninvolved. Starring Eric Roberts, Gregory Harrison, Lee Grant, Margaret Cho and Bronson Pinchot. Directed and written by Randal Kleiser. Produced by Joel Thurm and Randal Kleiser. A UA release. Drama. Rated R for language and brief nudity. Running time: 109 min
Tags: Eric Roberts, Gregory Harrison, Lee Grant, Margaret Cho, Bronson Pinchot, Randal Kleiser, Joel Thurm, UA, Drama, hero, love story, homosexual, death

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