Stephen Fry invites Kenneth Branagh, Alphonsia Emmanuel, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton and Emma Thompson to a miserable party. Branagh coaxes dreadful performances from his talented cast. Peter’s Friends wants to mix the angst of The Big Chill with the broad comedy of a Christmas Panto. Nothing works. The bisexual character isn’t the focus but the film is so terrible that I wanted to write about it.
Learn more in my spoiler filled recap.
Act One: College Chums
Scene One: College Revue
(The cast performs an awful song in drag for a bored audience.)
KENNETH BRANAGH: Let’s never give a performance that bad again.
Scene Two: Ten Years Later
STEPHEN FRY: Thank you for coming to my New Year’s party! I’ve something Very Important to tell you.
ALPHONSIA EMMANUEL: Nobody cares. Let’s all have sex.
HORNY BOYFRIEND: I left my wife for you!
ALPHONSIA EMMANUEL: What a buzz kill. Get out. (He leaves.)
Act Two: Subplots
Scene Three: Ambition
RUDE AMERICAN ACTRESS: I want a bigger room! I want healthier food! I want attention!
KENNETH BRANAGH: I hate my wife. She’s only here because she co-wrote the script.
RUDE AMERICAN ACTRESS: Says the director who casts himself in all his films. (Leaves.)
Scene Four: Seduction
EMMA THOMPSON: I’m a frumpy cat lady. But you’ve awoken my inner tigress.
STEPHEN: That’s nice but…
EMMA THOMPSON: Stick it in me! (Strips naked.)
STEPHEN FRY: Oh honey, put those away.
EMMA THOMPSON: I thought you were bisexual.
STEPHEN FRY: I am but I’m celibate. For a Very Important Reason.
Scene Five: Grief
HUGH LAURIE: Stop phoning the babysitter.
IMELDA STAUNTON: OUR FIRST BABY DIED! I’M NOT LETTING THE SECOND ONE DIE JUST BECAUSE YOU DRAGGED ME TO A PARTY!
HUGH LAURIE: Would you feel better if we had rough sex?
IMELDA STAUNTON: Of course. All any grieving mother needs is a deep d***ing.
(They bang. Then do a silly dance.)
Act Three: Big News
Scene Six: Happy New Year
KENNETH BRANAGH: (Drunk acting.) I hate you Stephen Fry! Why did you invite us over!
STEPHEN FRY: I just want to tell you all I’m HIV positive. I chose to do so at a holiday party.
KENNETH BRANAGH: I’M SO SORRY! I’M GOING TO SHOUT THE REST OF MY LINES!
EMMA THOMPSON: The rest of us are going to be very quiet to show that the movie has turned serious.
STEPHEN FRY: Oh, don’t get serious. Would you feel better if we sang the awful song from the opening scene?
With Friends Like These
Reviews were mixed. Roger Ebert found it “amusing.” Todd McCarthy at Variety found it “cloying.” I found it wretched. The contrast between the dead baby drama and the camp comedy is jarring. The HIV announcement, while heavily foreshadowed, arrives too late in the film to be thoughtfully explored. The film seems almost embarrassed by it.
Perhaps the starry cast set my expectations too high. Laurie, Staunton and Branagh scream through their big scenes. Emma Thompson would blossom into a fine character actress but is lost here. Stephen Fry perseveres by giving deadpan reactions to the nonsense around him. Rita Rudner’s cartoonish rude American belongs in a different film entirely. She’d soon trade screenwriting for stand-up comedy.