This week’s question comes from A.V. Club contributor Michelle Welch: What movie party do you wish you’d been invited to?
As someone who never actually went to a party in high school, picking anything that happened in a teen movie just seems too daunting, so, though it’s a cliché, I have to go with Animal House’s toga party. I attended a “party school” myself and lived in a giant, dirty house whose residents (myself included) bought kegs almost every weekend and actually threw toga parties, so I think I’d feel right at home in a sweaty, beer-stinking basement listening to a live band and doing the gator. Plus, as a veteran of the college party scene, I’d know (unlike the girls at the beginning of the scene) not to bring a coat to a rager. Imagining that I went to this party when I was young and dumb, I’d also be drawn to the fact that some of those Delta Taus are kind of cute. Personally, I’m partial to D-Day—or I would have been when I was 19.
I’d like to be invited to the masquerade ball in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. I’ve cherished that movie from trailer to theater to DVD for its beautiful costume and set design and soundtrack, all three of which are on point at the masquerade that Kirsten Dunst and company crash. Set to Siouxsie And The Banshees’ “Hong Kong Garden,” there’s dancing, drinks, and the beginning of an illicit affair. It might be nerve-racking, but given the opportunity and the right wig, I would probably go for it.
I’m not a fan of big, loud parties, because I’ve been an old fart since I was about 16, so I was trying to think of a slightly more sedate affair than the ones that have been mentioned so far. I’m going with the dinner party scene from Borat, in which Sacha Baron Cohen—before everybody seemingly decided in unison to stop loving his shtick—attended a Southern party in order to learn how to behave like a gentleman. It’s one of the most tense scenes in the movie, but assuming I was in on the joke, I would have loved to have been there when innocent little Borat starts by complimenting the hostess in a slightly awkward way (“You have a very gentle face, and a very erotic physique”) then escalates quickly to the point where he brings a bag of shit to the fancy dining table and asks where to put it. “The host cleans the anus of the other?” I would’ve lost it, of course. I have no idea how the camera operator kept still.
Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice lets in a little less sunshine and light than one might expect from a Jane Austen adaptation, but one of its centerpiece scenes is a party at a giant country house that the camera roams through at length, simply observing people dancing or laughing in a corner over some private joke. I’m not often a huge fan of period films, but this party has the unique ability to make me really wish I could just go to that world for that night, then leave the next morning to return to a land of modern medicine and dentistry. It’s an important scene, because it gets the love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy on the way toward its preordained conclusion, but I mostly love it because it offers a sort of intoxicating detachment. You are there, yet you are also holding everything at a remove. So maybe I don’t need to attend this movie party. I’ve already been there.
I could be a smartass and say I’d like to go to the key party in The Ice Storm, but let’s be realistic: I’d be extremely uncomfortable. So let’s go back: I started my freshman year of high school in the fall of 1990, which means ’80s teen comedies had plenty of time to pollute my mind with unrealistic expectations for high school. The filmography of John Hughes deserves most of the blame, because nothing I went to resembled the party at Jake Ryan’s house in Sixteen Candles. But if I had to choose, I’d opt for the party in Weird Science, which was a prototypical high school rager, but with lots of weird shit happening. There’s the room where everything’s blue, an elderly couple frozen in the cupboard, a nuclear missile deployed from the basement, Chet’s been turned into a pile of shit, and Bikers show up looking for a rumble! Count me in.
My only criteria for a good party is getting to wear an awesome dress and drinking a lot of St. Germain—so it’s hard to choose just one. There’s the masque in Ever After, which has the advantage of being in France (more St. Germain) and the additional excitement of the prince choosing someone to marry from the assembled masses. However, real talk, if we could get a pipeline of French liqueur to the English countryside, I might go with Todd and pick the Netherfield ball, as it’s portrayed in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice. Pretty dresses, meaningful waltzes, and, as Lydia breathlessly gasps, “Officers!”
If I had lived in 18th-century Austria, I would have liked to score an invite to the Amadeus masquerade ball. I’m enamored with the ball’s undercurrent of playful intrigue—the sexiness of semi-anonymity—but of course this party has the added benefit of a mega-star attendee, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The scene in the film shows Mozart sitting down at the keyboard to reel off some inspired impersonations of other, lesser composers (lesser in Mozart’s mind, at least). But you know that the Mozart we see in Amadeus wouldn’t have stopped there. The guy undoubtedly was riffing all night, much to the consternation of his colleague in the Salzburg court, Antonio Salieri. And that would make for a killer story: “I was at a party with one of the greatest musical minds in the history of civilization, and he spent the whole night telling fart jokes.”
This is maybe a weird pick, given the vast choices at hand, but for some reason, I always fixated on the Halloween party outside the shuttered university building in Flatliners. It's only briefly glimpsed as the camera moves past to get back to the protagonists, but what we see—wildly, beautifully costumed people dancing around a bonfire on university grounds—just seems so much more exciting and glamorous than the Halloween parties I've been to, which mostly feature people wearing costumes and drinking themselves into oblivion. (Okay, one of them involved a piñata. But there's been a really unfortunate shortage of bonfires, not to mention movie-quality monster costumes.)
I had a very clean-cut group of friends in high school, so the Valley party in Clueless was the kind of social function I never had the chance to experience in my adolescence. It was also the exact type of social function I constantly found myself at in college, but I wish I had gone to one those smoky, boozy, chaotic house parties during my formative years. There are a plethora of choices when it comes to cinematic high school house parties, but I’d love to be a first-hand witness to classic moments like Tai getting hit in the face with a shoe during “Rollin’ With My Homies” or Dionne threatening to call Murray’s grandmother when he shaves his head. In my dream scenario, I give Cher a ride home so that she’s not stuck in a car with that jerk Elton, and then I replace Christian as her gay best friend for the rest of her pampered life.
My idea of the perfect movie party was formed long ago, as a teenager, during my umpteenth late-show viewing of Nick and Nora Charles’ Christmas party in The Thin Man. In case you haven’t seen it recently, Nora (Myrna Loy) is a rich heiress who has married Nick (William Powell), a professional detective, who, sensibly enough, celebrates their wedding by retiring to live off her fortune. In their first and best movie vehicle, the happy couple hit the Big Apple for the holidays, get involved in a murder investigation, and throw a well-lubricated shindig full of Nick’s old New York friends, a sizable number of whom he once arrested.
It’s not quite an organized party, but I’d love to be part of the celebrations in Prince Ali’s entourage from Disney’s Aladdin. Apart from being magically controlled by a genie, the parade that we see in the film has a lot going for it: a “world class menagerie” of animals, sword throwers, 75 golden camels, 53 peacocks, and, of course, a bevy of attractive servants. I’m sure I’d make for the hashish Abu the elephant keeps under his cap and eat some dates, while watching the spectacle, but that’s pretty much all I want to do at parties anyway (well, if you swap hash for booze). Admittedly, the entire show is created by Robin William’s manic genie in an effort to win Princess Jasmine’s favor, so it would all disappear into a puff of smoke after a few minutes. But, no one should stay too long at a party anyway. Adjust your veil, and prepare!
It’s a wonder we ever get to see the big graduation-party scene in Say Anything, given how busy Diane Court’s schedule seems to be when Lloyd Dobler initially pitches the idea of having her attend Vahlere’s annual to-do to commemorate the end of the school year. Luckily, after finally getting her to admit that she’s not monumentally busy, the stage is set for the film. High school parties onscreen tend to be painted in such an over-the-top fashion that it destroys any sort of reality that’s been created elsewhere in the film, but if you were attending such get-togethers in the late ’80s and early ’90s, you will recognize this as being a spot-on recreation, including a blaring soundtrack, a signature beverage (in this case, the Purple Passion), and a variety of attendees from across the social spectrum, most of whom quickly learn to tune out the drunken breakdowns going on around them at any given moment. It’s also full of moments, which I find myself quoting on a regular basis even now—most notably, “Oh, look at this gentleman here…” I won’t say that I actually miss the days when I’d attend parties like this every weekend, but I will say I could’ve done with having a Keymaster at some of those soirees. It would’ve saved me several nights of couch surfing over the years.