Wednesday, 17 July 2019

The Party Animal (1984)

Ahhhhhh the '80s, eh. It was a very different time. Nobody seemed to be all that woke. Filmes were made that focused on inappropriate central relationships, wolf whistles were considered foreplay, and many dates ended up as a battle of wills between the two main parties. In fact, most dates ended up looking very much like attempted date rape. Especially in something like The Party Animal.

It's a comedy from this era that has always stuck with me, mainly because this is a strangely twisted and dark creation that somehow managed to insert itself in amongst the more standard sex comedies of the decade. Largely forgotten nowadays, unless others have held on to the vivid memories of it that I had, it's one that deserves to be rescued from obscurity, as much for what it gets wrong as for what it gets right.

Matthew Causey plays Pondo Sinatra, a college student who rolls in on his first day like a walking hardon. And he spends most of his days that way, chasing after any and every woman close enough to him, emanating desperation like a particularly pungent scent of cheap cologne. His story is told by the one person who considers himself close enough to be considered a friend, Studly (played by Timothy Carhart).

There are many scenes in The Party Animal that will strike modern viewers as particularly unpleasant. Seeing how Pondo is with all women makes his "plight" all the easier to understand. He doesn't show any signs of charm or wit, and his only aim is getting into the knickers of any woman who will let him, by almost any means necessary. This will be easier to identify with if you've just managed to scrape through your teenage years, a time when you're still finding your own personality and thinking that others will like you more if you attempt to act like different, cooler, people. That's what the movie gets right. It just doesn't transfer well into a comedy. It also gets darker and darker as it runs through the brisk runtime (it's just under 80 minutes), heading towards an ending unlike any other I've seen in this kind of film.

I suspect that the film benefits from the fact that it is the first from director David Beaird, who also wrote the screenplay (working from an idea shaped by himself and Alan C. Fox). This explains the bizarre approach to the material that makes the first half so unappealing while the third act becomes a more unique and downbeat affair.

It's just a shame that Beaird didn't get himself a better cast. This is the only credited acting role for Causey, unsurprisingly, and he's a terrible leading man. It would be hard to imagine anyone doing much better with the material, to be fair, but getting someone with a better handle on the comedy could have helped. Carhart is the best person onscreen, and does well in his role. All of the women are disposable characters, there to reject the lead, and they're not given anything more to work with than various expressions of revulsion or attraction, depending on who they are working alongside.

I'm not going to say that The Party Animal is any kind of misunderstood classic, or that many other people will watch it and find it as fascinating as I do, but I do think it's a film that should be re-released today, especially if anyone could dig up some interesting information on the thinking behind it. Did it do well upon initial release? Did anyone expect it to? And how did they manage to put together such a great soundtrack? (featuring The Buzzcocks, The Fleshtones, and even a track from R.E.M.)


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