The Party's Over

on November 02, 2001 by Sheri Linden
Philip Seymour Hoffman is the likable Candide at the center of this wide-ranging docu, questioning with open-hearted skepticism the lofty rhetoric of American presidential politics. In the summer of 2000, Hoffman and the filmmakers hit the streets and the conventions to explore the gap between campaign machinery and human needs. Their half-year of cross-country travels takes us through the infamous Florida debacle (chronicled in far greater depth in "Unprecedented") to the inauguration of George W. Bush. As the controversial White House resident embarks on his reelection campaign, the film is timely, if diluted by its scattershot attempt to cover so many issues.

"The Party's Over" is, in a sense, a sequel to 1993's "The Last Party," which placed a sometimes distracted Robert Downey Jr. at the center of its political delvings. This time around, that film's producer, Donovan Leitch, teams with Rebecca Chaiklin at the helm, while Hoffman alternates between wide-eyed interviewer-as-student and astute observer of hypocrisy. The documentary's title is both a call for engagement in place of apathy and narcissism and an indictment of the two-party system as an out-of-touch institution.

At first treading familiar ground, the film serves up stock images of American civil disobedience. Gadflies including Noam Chomsky, Bill Maher, Michael Moore and Jesse Jackson offer articulate, impassioned commentary--but Hoffman's most moving interviews are with groups of schoolkids and retirees. Elected officials cover the spectrum, from Newt Gingrich to Barney Frank. Famous musicians discuss issues dear to them: Willie Nelson (the farm crisis), Ben Harper (racial tokenism), Eddie Vedder (corporate manipulation), Scott Weiland (drug addiction). Amongst non-celebrities, a gun-show attendee points out the socialist agenda of the Democrats and activist Cheri Honkala discusses the rage over once being homeless that still drives her.

The film is most powerful in its up-close footage of clashes between police and protesters at the Republican and Democratic conventions, and in its juxtaposition of those protests with the self-satisfied politicos inside the air-conditioned arenas, with Hoffman pointing out the parallels between the parties' spiels. Though it could have used a tighter focus, "The Party's Over" is an absorbing reminder of democracy's failings. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Directed by Donovan Leitch and Rebecca Chaiklin. Produced by Rebecca Chaiklin, Stanley Buchthal, Jon Kilik and Henri Kessler. A Film Movement release. Documentary. Not yet rated. Running time: 89 min

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