Picking the Perfect Party Movie

By  · Published on October 4th, 2016

Dear FSR

Put the “entertain” into “entertainment”.

At some point in your life, you’ve likely been faced with a question that has no solid answer. Some people may take such a puzzle to a trusted confidant, a friendly pastor, or the esteemed annals of Yahoo! Answers. But will they have the expertise needed to solve your most pressing film predicaments?

Think of Dear FSR as an impartial arbiter for all your film concerns. Boyfriend texting while you’re trying to show him your most precious Ozu? What’s the best way to confront the guy who snuck that pungent curry into your cramped theater? This is an advice column for film fans, by a film fan.

Dear FSR,

I’m throwing a party in a few weeks (it’s not a Halloween Party sort of party, though) and want to know what makes a good background movie to play during a party? Do I pick something classic like Raiders or Star Wars, something weird like Reefer Madness/The Room/Birdemic, something unobjectionable like Lion King/Finding Nemo, something funny and quotable like Dodgeball or Anchorman, or crazy like The Raid or John Wick? I’m not married to these options, so feel free to pull from whatever inspires you.


Perplexed Party Planner

Dear Party Planner,

While there are certain charms to shaping a party (especially a themed holiday party) around a movie, they never seem to spark before or sustain after the film plays. Everyone just mulls around knowing that the feature presentation is waiting for them. Christmas sweaters become itchy reminders of the warmth generated by a group of cinephiles and Halloween costumes become viewing obstructions.

So you’ve already done well by deciding on a background movie rather than a film-focused get-together. Those really only work if you eliminate any party preconception and immediately jump into the Z-movie or college favorite you’ve procured. That, or you’re showing Rocky Horror in your backyard, which is a whole ‘nother quandary that could warrant a book of guidelines.

To find the perfect undercurrent of audio/visual good vibes, I’d ask you to extend your series of options to more familiar party additives – namely music. Are you having a more sophisticated cocktail affair? If so, something jazz-like and soft would fit the bill so as not to distract from conversation but still act as a social lubricant if someone needs an opening subject. In that case, I’d recommend a classy film that’d enhance the atmosphere without being enthrallingly plotted or needlessly noisy with songs – something like 2009’s A Single Man (available for streaming on Netflix).

If it’s a more rambunctious shindig, maybe something to encourage rowdiness. This could be where your The Raid or John Wick or random all-Chinese kung fu movie comes into play because there won’t be an excess of English floating around competing with your guests while kicking the mood in its ass for a bit. Same with any more punk, musical movie (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World works great for this with its short musical moments and garage band soundtrack).

In the end, you really want to match the mood you’re shooting for with the mood of your movie. However some of your suggestions just won’t work for different reasons. Classic movies are classic for a reason – people love watching them. If I saw Raiders playing at the halfway point on a Wal-Mart display TV, I’d gawk in front of it for the rest of the runtime because every frame of that film is a black hole of pleasure. Too funny or weird and that becomes the center of your party, leaving it lifeless and anemic once the credits roll. Instead, be anticipatory with your choices.

You want a body-strewn living room in the morning as people’s mistakes lay pooling on your floor? Go loud with your choices – the wailing guitars and sand worms of Dune or the brash humanity of the LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits. You want to turn in early as people drive away still thinking about the sparkling conversation? Go old and go witty, like How to Steal a Million.

Either way, play to your audience and avoid getting something that will suck people in (i.e. away from your party). That and have plenty of drinks.

We’ll see you at 10:00 PM (I’ll grab a bottle of wine),


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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).