Friday, August 28, 2009

The Party Never Stops (Jaffe/Braunstein Films, Lifetime, 2007)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

This morning I screened a Lifetime TV-movie I’d wanted to watch since I recorded it but just got around to now: The Party Never Stops (or, to give it its full title, The Party Never Stops: Diary of a Binge Drinker), the story of Jessie Brenner (Sara Paxton) who’s looking forward to going to college after a stellar high-school career in which she got a 3.8 GPA and regularly worked out running with her mom, April (Nancy Travis), whom she’s been especially (and, writer Matt Dorff tries to hint, almost pathologically) close since her father died a year before. Once she gets into college she’s assigned a dorm room and a roommate, Shanna Martin (Chelsea Hobbs), who immediately turns her on to drinking, hanging out with the fraternity boys and partying until she sinks into a stupor. Within a few weeks she’s racing to classes (when she wakes up from her binges in time to attend them at all) and has blown her long-time ambition to try out for the college track team because when she drinks she loses her coordination so totally she can no longer run.

She also lets Shanna set her up with Keith (Jared Keeso), a frat-buddy friend of Shanna’s own boyfriend Perry (Brent C.S. O’Connor), blowing off the affections of Colin (James Kirk), who may not be as drop-dead gorgeous as the frat guys (though frankly he did a lot more for me!) but is a lot more appealing, creative, serious and is working his way through college by busking on street corners singing mediocre songs apparently inspired by his desire to be a male version of Joni Mitchell (whom he names as his favorite musician; he and Jessie go into ecstasies about “that stuff she did with Mingus” — actually Mitchell and Charles Mingus were planning to make an album together and had written three songs together, but Mingus died before he and Mitchell could actually record together, and the final Mingus LP Mitchell released in 1979 — a year after Mingus’s death — contained the three songs they worked on together; a fourth song, “Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat,” in which Mitchell added lyrics to an old Mingus instrumental; and two new songs Mitchell wrote for the project after Mingus died, one of which was about Mingus).

I noticed at least one commentator gave this movie a much better review than it deserved because, like the people who praised the God-awful film Human Trafficking, this writer was so enamored of the intentions behind this film — to warn people, especially students in or about to go to college, of the dangers of binge drinking and the college party scene — he or she ignored what a lousy movie it was. The big problem is that Dorff’s script is so damned predictable — he timidly goes where a thousand addiction movies have gone before him — down to Colin turning out to be a recovering alcoholic himself who did himself out of a scholarship and a job before hitting bottom and sobering up; and Shanna, at the end of the school year, promising Jessie she’s going to stop drinking (Jessie already has, thanks largely due to pressure from her mother, who has turned from best-bud to avenging parent) as soon as she goes to one last frat boys’ party … and literally drinks herself to death at it, as any graduate of Clichéd Screenwriting 101 could have predicted in a heartbeat.

The director, David Wu, doesn’t help either; though at least he doesn’t do the video “flanging” effects beloved of a lot of really schlocky Lifetime directors who think they’re being “artistic,” he’s got another, equally annoying “artistic” mannerism of his own: he way overdoes the freeze-frame and turns the movie into still pictures to indicate that the characters are introspecting. It also doesn’t help that he stages one of the drinking scenes with literal blackouts — as Jessie is climbing the stairs on her way to one such party the image periodically cuts (not fades!) to total black, and the first time this happens we wonder if there’s a problem with our TV before we finally realize, “No, it’s not a picture problem — just an arty director!” I was hoping for some nice soft-core porn scenes, but we don’t even get that — just Jessie waking up in strangers’ beds a couple of times and realizing she’s just let some guy she didn’t even know fuck her because she was too drunk to want to resist.