Election Eve, Australia, 1969. Don (John Hargreaves) decides to throw a big party; he's convinced there will be reason to celebrate when the Labor Party wins. His wife Kath (Jeanie Dryan) isn't so sure; besides, she is fed up with her husband's need for such bashes.
The guests arrive throughout the evening; Mack (Graham Kennedy), a clownish fellow who has just separated from his wife (she is present at the party in the form a large nude photograph); Mal (Ray Barrett), a discontented seeker who left teaching for a job in industry, and his lonely, bitter wife Jenny (Pat Bishop); Simon (Graeme Blundell), a prissy middle-class fellow who is in plastics, and his chic but naïve wife Jody (Veronic Lang); Evan (Kit Taylor), an edgy dentist, and his sensual artist wife Kerry (Candy Raymond); Cooley (Harold Hopkins), a Lothario lawyer, and lusty 19-year-old date Susan (Claire Binney).
Those familiar with the works of Harold Pinter and Edward Albee will recognize the rhythms of this drama. As these very diverse individuals eat, drink and play verbal games, their words become weapons. Through first wit and then argument, they try to establish dominance. Susan makes a pass at Don, the professor who has never written his big novel. He is ready to accommodate her until she asks his wife for permission. Mack and Mal flirt with Kerry, but she is interested in Cooley. The women use their sexuality to tease and to taunt; even the very straight-arrow Jody gets into the swing of things after having a few drinks.
David Williamson's screenplay strips these beings bare in a contest of wills. Don, Mack, Mal, and Cooley are accustomed to verbally abusing each other; they enjoy pushing to the limits to see what they can find or feel. Jody and her husband are not used to this kind of exposure and she complains, "I don't think there's anything wrong with discussion but I don't think you should argue with people you don't' know." Near the end of the evening, Kath and Jenny let loose with stored-up venom for their husbands and then for each other.
Director Beresford (this film was made before Breaker Morant and The Getting of Wisdom) draws out top-drawer performances form this talented ensemble of actors. As the characters squirm about in the face of social, economic, political and sexual disagreements, humor and degradation come in equal doses.
Don's Party offers the kind of catharsis which emerges from confrontation. One marriage is kicked apart (it was already in jeopardy), and several others are cracked open to expose their hidden demons. The film reveals the silliness and immaturity of male bonding when it remains on the infantile level. Finally, the story effectively conveys the sharp edges of sexuality among those who have been unlucky in love.