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MOVIE REVIEW : Learning to Cope With Life in L.A. 'When the Party's Over' : The film transcends the conventional plot and brings the characters alive in this engaging tale of struggling housemates.

March 12, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Matthew Irmas' "When the Party's Over" (at the Monica 4-Plex) is a modest, engaging first feature that tells of four young people sharing a handsome old Spanish house in the Hollywood Hills and coming to terms with adulthood. Thanks to Ann Wycoff's substantial script, Irmas' incisive direction, and especially to Rae Dawn Chong's selfless portrayal of M.J., a ruthlessly ambitious stockbroker, the film rises above its conventional plot and style to create genuine impact and involvement. At last Chong has a role that shows off her talent and intelligence as well as her distinctive beauty and presence.

M.J. is like Hud or Scarlett O'Hara in that she's lots more captivating than numerous far more decent people surrounding her. They include her housemates Amanda (Sandra Bullock), a struggling artist; Frankie (Elizabeth Berridge), a social worker supervising a mural painting involving members of street gangs; and Banks (Kris Kamm), a gay actor beginning to despair of making it beyond the occasional commercial. (Of the four housemates only Banks is unfortunately denied a personal life.)

These three are likable, but only M.J. has a clear idea of how much relentless, single-minded determination it can take to make it in L.A. She seems far more realistic than the others, which commands our respect, yet she has undeniably lost touch with her values along the way. She needs to love and be loved as much as any of her friends, and underneath it all she does have a conscience, but the pursuit of success has so hardened her that she doesn't hesitate to seduce Frankie's lawyer fiance (Brian McNamara). She also doesn't realize that she may just fall in love with him in the process.

To their credit Irmas and his fine young cast bring each individual alive, although we don't get to know Bullock's Amanda beyond that she's nice, a firmly caring sister to her sweet-natured kid brother (Michael Landes) and an amused foil to her ardent suitor, a persistent New Age consciousness type played amusingly by Fisher Stevens.

"When the Party's Over" (rated R for language and sexuality) copped top prizes at the Philadelphia and Houston film festivals and is an encouraging venture for all concerned, especially Rae Dawn Chong.

'When the Party's Over'

Rae Dawn Chong: M.J.

Fisher Stevens: Alex

Sandra Bullock: Amanda

Elizabeth Berridge: Frankie

Brian McNamara: Taylor

Kris Kamm: Banks

Michael Landes: Willie

A Strand release of a WTPO production. Director Matthew Irmas. Producers James A. Holt, Ann Wycoff, Irmas. Screenplay by Wycoff. Cinematographer Alicia Weber. Editor Jerry Bixman. Costumes Terry Dresbach. Music Joe Romano. Production design Gary Steele. Art director Merrie Okie. Set decorator Nancy Arnold. Sound Oliver Moss. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for language and sexuality).

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