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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
When the Party's Over (1992)
3 Stars

Directed by Matthew Irmas
Cast: Rae Dawn Chong, Sandra Bullock, Elizabeth Berridge, Michael Landes, Kris Kamm, Fisher Stevens, Brian McNamara, Stephen Meadows, Raymond Cruz.
1992 – 114 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for profanity and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 20, 1999.

"When the Party's Over" really surprised me. Renting the film because of the impressive cast, but not actually expecting much out of it, what I found was an, overall, undiscovered gem that most people probably have not even heard of, but it really is in video stores, just waiting to be rented. Another movie about "twentysomethings in the '90s," but made in 1991 before the Gen-X feature film explosion, "When the Party's Over" includes fascinating, multi-layered characters and an engaging story, and is easily worthy the price of a rental.

Set in Los Angeles, four friends--businesswoman MJ (Rae Dawn Chong), feminist artist Amanda (Sandra Bullock), charity worker Frankie (Elizabeth Berridge), and struggling actor Banks (Kris Kamm)--share a place together. MJ is beginning to wonder if she will ever find someone to love, as her days are filled with either work or emotionless one night stands. Constantly taking her friends for granted, but always apologetic afterwards, she also is currently having an affair with Taylor (Brian McNamara), who is seriously involved and in love with the sweet, caring Frankie. Frankie, meanwhile, is in the middle of creating a giant mural in an urban neighborhood, having made a friend with Mario (Raymond Cruz), who lives there, but fearing for the residents' lives, as a drive-by shooting seems to occur almost every night. And last, Amanda has sworn off dating for awhile, unable to deal with the pain that inevitably comes with it, choosing instead to just be with her friends and her teenage brother, Willie (Michael Landes), who is always hanging around her to get away from his unsatisfying home life. One day while at a party, the curiously-named Alexander Midnight (Fisher Stevens) first comes on to her with a seemingly corny pick-up line ("I'm positive we've met before...in a past life"), but soon she discovers that Alexander is completely sincere and, for once, interested in her, not sex.

It's mindboggling why "When the Party's Over" fell through the cracks, obtaining nothing more than a limited, and brief, theatrical run before heading to video. Maybe it is because now-movie star Sandra Bullock was a then-nobody, or more likely, it is because distrubutor Live Entertainment was going through financial troubles during the 1991-1992 time period. Either way, it desperately deserves to be noticed, and marks not only a mature, affirming screenplay by Ann Wycoff, but several standout, possibly Oscar-caliber performances.

Most captivating of all is MJ, played by Chong in one of her last substantial roles (before she, sadly, has resorted to direct-to-video action-oriented junk). MJ is not a bad person, regardless of if she uses her friends. She loves them all dearly, but is plagued by self-involvement, jumping from one guy to the next and only gaining interest in the men she knows she can't have, such as Taylor. MJ knows she has a problem, and is often keeping Amanda up through all hours of the night discussing her life.

In one of her very first feature film roles, Bullock gives one of her best performances to date, ranking right up there with her scene-stealing work in 1993's "The Thing Called Love" and 1994's "Speed." Bullock's Amanda is given the chance to have two memorable relationships in the film, both very telling and honest--one with her teen brother who, in one of the more touching scenes, explains to him that she loves him more than anything, would do anything for him, but that he can't move in with her because he has to live at home with their father; and the other with Alexander Midnight, which slowly but surely builds up to a sweet, innocent romance. Fisher Stevens is another standout as Alexander, who is such a refreshingly original character you almost can't believe how genuine he is in his feelings.

Elizabeth Berridge, previously seen in a number of films, including one of my all-time favorites, 1986's "Smooth Talk," is truly poignant and effervescent as Frankie, who is hoping to get engaged with Taylor, unknowing that he has cheated on her. Frankie is a do-gooder, hoping to change the world in some way with her dedication to society, but is also having doubts about where everything is headed. She loves living in L.A., but is beginning to doubt if other better things might be passing her by.

All of these story threads boil down to an absolutely perfect conclusion, where everything comes together but, realistically, not everything is solved. Director Matthew Irmas is wise not to judge the characters, but to let the viewer decide what they think of each one of them, and due to the flawless last ten or so shots, ends everything on an emotional, thoughful note. "When the Party's Over," a serious-minded motion picture on the trials, tribulatons, and (good and bad) experiences of young adults, is not to be missed.

© 1999 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman