THE INVITATION is a film which will certainly get you talking. About what, exactly, may not be what the filmmakers intended. It is a film most definitely about Los
Angeles and what most of us, especially those who do not live there, believe about its population. Perhaps even most of its citizens would agree that it is an apt portrayal of what happens in the cloistered homes, a send up of sorts, and therefore a black comedy which could be none more blacker, so to say. But it isn’t really a comedy or at least in my opinion, not intentionally so.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are invited via an elegant letterpress invitation to a dinner party at the home he formerly shared with then wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard). Eden has reappeared after a two year disappearance remarried to David (Michiel Huisman) and the two are now living in the rambling home high in the Hollywood Hills. The party is a reunion of sorts not merely for Eden and Will, but for their circle of friends who seem to have splintered following a thinly veiled tragedy which lies at the heart of Will and Eden’s split. Eden is polished and perfect; her face an ageless mask of beauty with cascading silken hair and a floor length white gown skimming her flawless buoyant body. She is the archetypal Hollywood female indeed.
Will and Kira’s arrival, as they are a white male and an African-American woman, complete what is perhaps the most spectacularly diverse assembly of thirty-something party guests of all time. Already in attendance are old friends Tommy & Miguel, a beautiful gay male couple, Gina, a gorgeous Asian woman, Ben, an intelligent slightly chunky family guy, Claire, miss nondescript single American woman, Sadie, a new and mysterious lascivious free spirit we first glimpse in her underwear, and arriving mysteriously late, possessing a humorless and quietly threatening countenance, David’s friend Pruitt. This congregation of old and new suffers what is without question the most agonizing dinner party of all time.
Eden and David have an agenda rife with fake ‘authenticity’ and bullshit New Age philosophy about joy and ‘letting go,’ which they insist on forcing down their guest’s throats as the appetizer to a massive array of food which seems to have mysteriously prepared itself. I do not ever give spoilers and this review is no exception, but suffice it to say that for the first half of the film all I could focus on was why on earth anyone would stay at this dreadful party? Will stays to try to make peace with both Eden and what happened there two years previous. As for the rest of the party guests, it’s anyone’s guess. The house has weak cell service and David insists on suspiciously high security measures as though the Manson Family is right outside the door. Director Karyn Kusama does a fairly good job of building a slow tension, and by far the most interesting facet of the film is the question of whether Will’s paranoia about David, Eden and the entire fete is warranted, or whether he is merely disintegrating under the weight of what he and Eden suffered. Marshall-Green is by far the strongest actor in the cast and he is compelling and sympathetic. He also resembles Tom Hardy to a remarkable degree which I found slightly distracting but, that was mitigated by my deep gratitude that Will was not played by the actual Tom Hardy (hashtag-over-exposed). The drama builds throughout the course of the evening and the film to a turning point which ruins the cheese course to say the least.
THE INVITATION is less cautionary tale and more modern commentary on loss and redemption. In the end the story reaches a fitting, and believably bizarre conclusion, however its rationale is somewhat tenuous as is the nagging question of why the party guests persevered in the first place. Shot in the tight confines of the house and a sliver of back yard filled with the blue glow of pool water, the film lacks dynamic cinematography which is a shame. For the bulk of the film the scenes are all mid-range and static with only the dialogue and beauty of the cast to hold us. Toward the conclusion the camera work picks up life and the movie contains a few delicately beautiful shots but but they’re too little too late. Kusama’s nimble direction would have been so much more powerful with equally dynamic cinematography. The cast works well as an ensemble with Marshall-Green and the ever mutable John Carroll Lynch (Pruitt) as standouts. While THE INVITATION works a bit better in theory than in practice, it does hold your attention if for no other reason than to ascertain whether Will is losing his shit or not. Just make sure that when your host hangs up the red lantern, you leave before dessert.(3.5 / 5)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michiel Huisman, John Carroll Lynch
Running Time: 100 minutes
THE INVITATION Movie Review