IT’S MY PARTY. (1996) WRITTEN, DIRECTED AND CO-PRODUCED BY RANDAL KLEISER. BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. STARRING ERIC ROBERTS, GREGORY HARRISON, BRONSON PINCHOT, BRUCE DAVISON, OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN, MARLEE MATLIN, MARGARET CHO, GEORGE SEGAL, LEE GRANT, NINA FOCH, RODDY MCDOWALL, SALLY KELLERMAN, DIMITRA ARLISS AND CHRISTOPHER ATKINS. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. © This is an American AIDS drama by the man who directed musical romantic comedy GREASE in 1978, and, in fact, his female lead, Olivia Newton-John, appears in IT’S MY PARTY as one of the quite large cast of characters. It’s based on true-life events, ie, the death of director Randal Kleiser’s lover, Harry Stein, from AIDS, and the farewell party he threw when he himself was ‘checking out,’ as they call it in the film. The party in the film is thrown by Nick Stark, brilliantly played by Eric Roberts, who is actually Julia Roberts’s handsome older brother. Nick is a gay, HIV-positive architect and designer, just like the real-life Harry Stein. When he discovers that he has the disease known as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, a disease that in only a few days will result more or less in the rotting of his brain and the loss of his vision and mental faculties, Nick decides that he’s had enough. He’s going to commit suicide while he still has the ability to do so. First, though, he hosts a two-day party for his family and friends, all of whom know his plight. His parents, estranged from each other but not from their beloved son, are top of the guest list, along with his deaf sister Daphne, ably played by Marlee Matlin. Nick’s best gal-pal, Charlene Lee, played by Margaret Cho, is also present. Olivia Newton-John and Bruce Davison play a married couple who are either relatives or very close friends of Nick’s. Their son Andrew, gay too and unsure of himself, already sleeping with his own boyfriend, idolises Nick and is devastated by his plan to ‘check out’ early. But Nick’s made his mind up. The way he sees it, in a few days he’ll be a blind ‘vegetable’ with memory loss who won’t be able to control his own bladder. He doesn’t want to live through that, if you could call it ‘living.’ His diagnosis of PML means he only has a few months at the most to live anyway. He wants to die now, tomorrow, when all his guests have left. Christopher Atkins, famous for starring in THE BLUE LAGOON alongside a teenaged Brooke Shields, plays Jack, one of the pals who’s come to say goodbye. Roddy McDowall portrays a guest called Damian who doesn’t believe in suicide and tries to talk Nick out of it. No dice, though. Another guest is played by Sally Kellerman, who was the original Major Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan in Robert Altman’s movie, M*A*S*H, about a military hospital, a role famously taken on by Loretta Swit in the series that followed on from the movie. It’s kind of an all-star cast, this. Bronson Pinchot, better known for playing Eastern European immigrant Balki Bartokomous in popular American sitcom, PERFECT STRANGERS, from 1986-1983, does a brilliant job of playing Nick’s gay best friend, Monty Tipton. Monty has been HIV-positive for eight years himself, so he knows what it’s like to live with the fear of AIDS. You’d never know he had a thing wrong with him, however, as he’s bright and lively and full of quips, bitchy witticisms and movie quotes. He gives a right tongue-lashing to Nick’s ex-lover, film director Brandon Theis, who reluctantly turns up at the party because Charlene has invited him and not Nick. Nick was devastated when Brandon kicked him out of their shared home the year before, because Brandon basically couldn’t handle Nick’s HIV-positive diagnosis. He was scared stiff, that’s the beginning, middle and end of it, and he broke his promise to Nick to stay with him forever because of that fear. Now Nick is about to die and Brandon is riddled with guilt and love for his ex-lover. Will Nick be angry he’s here, or glad to see the love of his life one last time…? The film is full of the grim, macabre black humour gay men with AIDS or who have friends with AIDS seem to use. Stuff like: ‘It’s your funeral, babe…!’ ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead in those colours.’ ‘Oh, why don’t you fuck off and die already?’ ‘It’s my party and I’ll die if I want to…!’ Stuff like that. We witness the earlier death-by-suicide of a friend of both Nick’s and Brandon’s, and Nick’s treatment of the corpse and the situation is irreverent in a way that probably only another gay man with AIDS would be allowed to get away with. I hope I myself am not being irreverent when I say that it’s almost like some kind of club that excludes everyone else who’s not an official member, albeit a club that no-one, literally no-one, ever asked to join…! Everything’s a huge big joke and no-one’s allowed to cry except Nick’s mom, Amalia, who is in bits over her son’s near demise. That cry of pain she gives when Brandon carries Nick off to the bedroom to let the pills he’s swallowed take effect is heart-rending. I cried at that bit myself. It’s a very sad movie, with a very sad subject. You would cry too if it happened to youuuuuu…! Who wants to ever be in that position of having to decide to kill oneself because the future has shrivelled up and withered in front of you? No-one, of course. And there’s a big difference between saying you’re going to kill yourself and actually doing it. What must that ‘this is it’ moment feel like, knowing that after all your talk and planning and wondering, it’s finally happening…? Would there be an awful moment of regret, of wanting to change your mind and go back, and what if it was too late? I can’t even imagine being in that situation, can you? Here’s another grim thought, courtesy of my brain. Being Catholic and both God-and-law-fearing , I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if the movie continued on past the death of Nick… (I can’t help it, it was bullied into me at school AND at home!) Is it illegal to commit suicide/assisted suicide in America? Would the people who physically helped him to do it, like Brandon, be accused of complicity in an illegal act? Would the bystanders? When the police are called out to this sudden death, can whoever’s there to let them in tell the truth and say it was deliberate and there was even a party with music, food, drink and presents to celebrate it, or would they have to pretend they just came over and found the deceased, well, deceased…? I don’t know. Great film, anyway, bit over-long, available to watch on YouTube, but you’ll need a ton of hankies to get through it…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: