The Art of the Bash: 5 Great Movie Parties

There are plenty of things to love about New York in the summertime: beaches less than 50 minutes away, free outdoor concerts and movies, picnics in parks and piers, Italian ice carts, the refreshing chill of an air-conditioned subway car after ten minutes of suffocating in the station. Then there are the parties — on patios, gardens, rooftops, stoops, blocks, and anywhere else a grill and a cooler could conceivably be squeezed. Something about summer parties always make me nostalgic for warm-weather shindigs of the past, from the Michigan lakeside bonfires where we kept our beers cool by nestling them into the sand at low tide to last summer’s dance party in North Carolina, where guests invented mosquito-inspired moves that allowed us to slap bitten limbs to a nice rhythmic beat. This summer I’ve found myself feeling nostalgic for a summer party even as it’s happening, which is a feeling there should be a word for, if there isn’t already. (German language, I’m looking at you.)

Anyway, all this seasonal reminiscing got me thinking about my favorite parties on film. While there are plenty of movies with epic party scenes, I wouldn’t actually want to be at a lot of them. People are always fighting or throwing up or crying, which is accurate but not that appealing. Some movies, however, bypass the drama to focus on what great parties are all about. Here are five far-from-definitive scenes of parties I’d give my left arm (or at least my left sleeve) to attend. What are your picks?

1.) Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Even the cat is entertained! Henry Mancini’s jazzy horns make people hop around and do handstands and make out in the shower. Holly Golightly is a perfect hostess, balancing smooth introductions with dishy backstories and putting out fires with a simple flick of the wrist. And everyone looks so classy! It’s pretty much the ideal cocktail party until the police show up (except for Mickey Rooney’s horrifyingly racist portrayal of the landlord, seen at the beginning of the clip, which goes a long way toward souring the entire film).

2.) Reprise

This movie isn’t out on DVD yet, so I can’t link to its pivotal house-party scene, but seconds 0:52 – 1:06 of this trailer show some shots of it and communicate its general feel, which is about being exuberant and young and a little reckless and falling in love messily and turning “Deceptacon” way up when it comes on the stereo, not down, no matter what anyone tells you to do. “Reprise” captures the flip side of all that too, as the trailer shows, but what sticks with me most, a couple months after seeing the movie, is how well that scene conveys the particular elation that sometimes arises in the midst of twenty-something confusion and loneliness: the joy of a night gone right.

3.) The Wedding Crashers

Anthony Lane calls the opening “Shout” scene “a hectic montage of good will,” which sounds just about right to me. It’s true that Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are imposters and cads, but they’re really happy about it, and they’re making everyone else happy, too. I mean, the dipping and twirling! The champagne toasts! There’s an expansive warmth behind all that flirtation and playful seduction; at these weddings, in the moment, they love everybody, and they really are the best men.

4.) Arrested Development – One of the Bluth Family’s Better Parties

This is cheating a bit, since it’s a television show, but a microanalysis of this party scene reveals that it really rocks. Tobias is sitting in the fireplace and then dancing to Buster’s piano-plinking in his cut-offs, Michael’s wearing a wig, Franklin is there for some reason, Lucille is belly-laughing at her own intervention. I only wish my family knew how to party like this.

5.) Dazed and Confused

There’s the seminal keg party in the woods, sure, but really the entire movie is more or less one gigantic good-times blowout. “Dazed and Confused” gets a lot of important details right, such as: half of the funnest parts of suburban teenage parties take place in the car on the way over. And of all the parties listed here, this is the one that seems most probable. I think most people can probably recognize that type of year-end party that feels real and hopeful, a little wild, a little sad, and wide-open. Plus, people talk made-up American history while lying on the hood of a car and gazing up at the stars. That’s my kind of party.

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