Jennifer Jason Leigh is on that list of thespians — Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Jeffrey Wright, often called the “greatest actor of their generation.” She has continually taken chances, and curiously for a film actress, dedicated a good portion of her time to the stage. Jason Leigh takes on projects that present a challenge, intellectually as well as physically. In Cabaret she was forced to sing and dance, while David Auburn’s Proof found her portraying a psychologically unhinged, though brilliant mathematician.
Here she performs the role of delirious party-throwing wife Beverly in a deep, deep British accent. I was never sure if the accent was dead-on or horrible. Either way it’s a hilarious performance — Beverly plying her guests with drinks, drawing out the very worst in them, and ultimately, her own drunken self. She and workaholic husband Lawrence’s revulsion for one another and their drab life evolves into a social terrorism towards their equally unhappy party guests. It recalls the vile of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf but with a good deal of insight into 1970s England — punk, kitschy furniture, and the dying remnants of England’s “classic” past. Acclaimed director Mike Leigh managed to explore in this 1977 drama Britain’s history, present, and to many, an unfathomable, nihilistic, multicultural future.
Elizabeth Jasicki is especially good as neighbor Angie, as are Lisa Emery and Darren Goldstein. But it is Jason Leigh, drunk, rambling, seductively dancing with anyone other than her husband, who sets the party tumbling down a spiral blaze.