Even for those of us who still, to this very minute, find the phrase “Governor Schwarzenegger” funny to the point of hyperventilation, the season for highest-bidder political farce has mercifully passed, to resume with next summer’s conventions. Which makes The Party’s Over all the more a capsule out of time: either a long-expired canning of the 2000 presidential campaign or a prematurely excavated relic of the Bush-Gore standoff. Personality-driven and conspicuously consumptive of sound bites, the film suggests a bunch of MTV’s “Choose or Lose” segments neatly strung together, with everydude emcee Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the earnest gene-splice of Michael Moore and Tabitha Soren. “I decided to host this documentary because I felt ill-informed,” Hoffman tells us in voice-over, then seeks out the word on every street—New York passersby, a classroom of wriggling grade-schoolers, buskers at a gun show—plus scads of celebs. There’s Susan Sarandon! And what’s Ben Harper got to say? But now let’s check in with Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots . . .
Not the death notice for the Democrats its title might portend, The Party’s Over is a follow-up of sorts to The Last Party (1993), which featured Robert Downey Jr. imping at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. In this semi-sequel, directed by Rebecca Chaiklin and Last Party producer Donovan Leitch, Hoffman has no particular argument to make, and neither does the movie—just befuddled disgust with The System in general and the right wing in particular (cue missionary rantings from an ex-gay minister or Pat Robertson railing against taxes that fund “dirty pictures or the Planned Parenthood”). The film’s strongest impact lies in summoning a stupefied hindsight, as when Ralph Nader, Tim Robbins, and Bill Maher all glibly equate the “two oil guys” (Maher’s phrase) in contention for the presidency, or the election-night moment when closed-captioning on a Times Square jumbo screen reads, “Florida goes to Mr. Gore.” The numbers still draw blood: Bush’s 537-vote edge versus more than 19,120 double-punched ballots in the Sunshine State; Nader’s decisive sub-3 percent nationwide; even those 152 prisoners executed on Bush’s watch as governor of Texas—the film scrolls through a few dozen mug shots of the dead before losing its nerve and skipping off to the next episode. Leitch and Chaiklin include reflexively rousing footage of the L.A. “Shadow Convention” and the WTO protests in Seattle, but then there’s Barney Frank, of all folks, to prick any idealist bubbles, explaining that groups with real lobbying power—the NRA, the AARP—share in common a disregard for demonstrations. No one cares about marches these days, Frank shrugs. What about received-wisdom docs?