Australia | 1976 | Directed by Bruce Beresford
Logline: On the night of the 1969 Australian election, Don holds a party in his Sydney home, where his crass middleclass friends discuss sex and politics, get drunk, and try to seduce each other’s wives.
Arguably playwright David Williamson’s finest hour-and-a-half, Don’s Party is a superbly sustained comedic treatise on suburban wankery, macho hoohah, feminine guile, sociopolitical diatribes, and other shambolic party shenanigans. It worked brilliantly (and still does) as a play, and Bruce Beresford turned it into a classic of Aussie 70s cinema, complete with more bush and tackle than you shake a cold Coors tinnie at.
The feature was honoured six times at the 1977 AFI Awards with Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Actress (Pat Bishop), and Best Supporting Actress (Veronica Lang). Williamson’s screenplay adaptation loses none of its finely-honed satire, and Beresford’s casting is top notch, the cream of Australian drama and comedy together under one roof and having a ball.
The male players; John Hargreaves as opportunist school teacher Don, Graham Kennedy as amateur pornographer Mack, Ray Barrett as sleazy embittered Mal, Greame Blundell as mild-mannered, safari-suited Simon, Harold Hopkins as cowboy Cooley, and Kit Taylor as grumpy lawyer Evan. The female players; Claire Binney as hot-to-trot Susan, Candy Raymond as adulteress Kerry, Pat Bishop as long suffering Jenny, Veronica Lang as impressionable Jody, and Jeanie Dryan as Don’s wife Kath, at the end of her tether.
Don’s and his democrat mates are confident of a win, and the election news early in the night suggests they’re celebrations won’t be in vain. But booze and boorish behaviour go hand-in-glove for these grotesque characters, and it’s not long before the layers start to peel back and reveal the beasts beneath the polyester shirts and flared slacks.
The dialogue spits and crackles like a dozen bangers on the barbie, and with the fine performances, baring more than just bad behaviour, the scene is raucous affair of competitive bullshitting and ill-conceived social commentary. The wives are the occasional bystanders, but eventually get their hands dirty. The wild card, nineteen-year-old free-sexpot Susan, is the springboard for temptation and corruption, but sultry Kerry knows a thing or two in the bedfellow stakes.
The background is very much Australian, but the true colours exposed are universal. There is a soft underbelly waiting to be slit open, the entrails of hypocrisy and fear of failure ripe for plucking and roasting, which Williamson and Beresford achieve with casual perfection. The narrative arc is terrific in exploiting the kind of chaos and disorder that swings at a party full of adults keen to shed their inhibitions, yet pathetically tied to their shortcomings.
Don’s Party is essential viewing for all well-read young Australians, and yet, dare I suggest it, but an intelligently cast remake set in this equally volatile, over-sexed modern age of too much information, too little political savvy, and ethical over-spill, could well be in order. But before that happens, indulge in a little lusty, hilarious distraction with the crackin' original.