Welcome to the Vanity Fair Oscar party, still the place where every A-lister stops by after the big show, where the starpower is so dense that gangly skateboarding legend Tony Hawk looms over us all and yet is essentially unnoticed. Where Scarlett Johansson and her SNL sweetheart Colin Jost, linked arm in arm, barely prompt a glance. Where Laura Dern, Oscar in hand, must pay fealty to the glossy magazine by standing on red carpet (that’s actually silver) as people with microphones and television cameras shout, “Congratulations, Laura!” as if they actually know her, with such frequency and fervor she has no choice but to abscond inside.
Where all anyone wants to know is, where is Bong Joon-ho?
He must be getting his four (four!) Oscars engraved right now; hopefully his scene-stealing interpreter, Sharon Choi, is taking notes. (Turns out she’s a filmmaker herself in the midst of writing a script about . . . the Academy Awards.) Will he be coming here to be worshiped by the likes of Timothée Chalamet, who has decided to spend the night dressed like a small-town gas station attendant from the 1950s? Or will he skip this party for “Parasite’s” own at Soho House across town, where karaoke has been promised?
Karaoke or Chalamet? Chalamet or karaoke? “I’m a very strange man,” Bong had said earlier in the night, so this is very hard to predict.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you are feeling awkward at a party, you should sidle up next to someone who looks at least as awkward. Awwww, there’s poor Tiffany Haddish, standing alone, staring at her phone, and — oh never mind. “Hey, girl!” she hollers, having managed to open her camera app to take a selfie with Ciara, who’s so tall and shimmery, with her leg spilling out of a slit up to her waist, that we don’t realize she’s pregnant until looking at the photos afterward.
Tiffany Haddish is actually the opposite of awkward. She is a gravitational center of this room — Anna Paquin is coming over to say hello, then Malin Akerman. And now Geena Davis, who has just ended her conversation with Adam Driver, who’s doing that thing where you walk one direction and then pretend you suddenly need to walk the other direction until you find someone you know (oh, he’ll be fine), so she can break in to Haddish and Paquin’s conversation.
Something is holding her back, though.
Geena Davis smiles at us. We smile back. She looks down and looks back up at us.
Why hello, we say. Oh, wait, no, we are standing on Geena Davis’s dress.
Haddish looks up and sees Davis, freed from our foot. “Oh! Oh! Oh! My queen!”
She curtsies. “I love you!” Haddish tells Davis. “I’ve been waiting for a long time. I’m coming for your ass. ‘Thelma and Louise’ reboot!” The party is loud, and we are leaning as close as we can without stepping on Davis’s dress again, but Haddish says something like:
“And they don’t have to die!”
(We think that’s what she said. Don’t hold us to it!)
Davis leaves, and Haddish is giddy, buzzing. “I’m sweating and everything!” She’s serious about that reboot. “I’m doing it with Geena!” she announces.
This space at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts — a massive one-night-only addition constructed with walls and floors trucked in for the occasion — is so vast that if you spend too much time getting smoke-filled air on the patio, you will miss seeing Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, Marilyn Manson, Rep. Maxine Waters back inside. Filmmaker Janicza Bravo will tell you that you also missed the person who everyone is freaking out about being here, Jerry from the Netflix series “Cheer.” She touched his arm and she made him hug her, she just felt so connected to him and couldn’t help it. Jerry still has a year left at Navarro Junior College, but he’s signed with United Talent Agency, so he’ll be back.
Have you met Riley Keough? She’s leaving, but there’s Michael Keaton, doing a shoulder shimmy walk before throwing his arms around a nondescript tall man who turns out to be Ray Romano.
Oscars are strewn so casually on high-top tables, you could easily run by and grab one.
Famous, celebrated bodies are shifting from one side of the room to the other. This is to make way for Billy Porter and his gigantic purple hat, which is a flex on par with wearing one of those big foam sandwich costumes to a Halloween party in a New York City studio apartment.
How’s he managing getting around the party in that thing? “It parts!” he says. When you ask for a selfie, because how could you not, he responds, “Come on now!” in a kind tone that means, of course, but hurry up, child, I’ve got a lot of fabulosity to spread.
Daniel Levy of “Schitt’s Creek” is freaking out under a heat lamp with the blond bassist from Haim. He just met Sandra Oh. “I said ‘I’m Canadian. You’re Canadian.’ ” Good opener.
Servers tricked out like old-timey cigarette girls distribute boxes of chocolate truffles and Verizon-sponsored phone-charging battery packs instead. Pedro Almodóvar is devouring an In-N-Out burger at the bar. On the dance floor, Adriana Lima twirls to “Rhythm of the Night” next to a man carrying a tiny, placid white dog.
Downstairs by the world’s most elegant collection of Port-a-Potty, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is washing her hands when a woman who has just finished flushing walks up. “I’m such a big fan of your work,” the woman says. “That movie you did that was in the past and you were biracial . . .”
“ ‘Belle’?” Mbatha-Raw guesses.
“Yes!” says the woman. “I’m biracial, and being biracial, we don’t always feel like we’re allowed to tell our story.”
“But we are!” says Mbatha-Raw. And then she gets out of there as quickly as humanly possible.
Bong, man of the hour, still isn’t here and last year’s winner for best actor, Rami Malek, is already making his exit plan. “I will see you at the Madonna party?” he asks someone. Katie Couric has her arm around Tan France from “Queer Eye.” Jake Gyllenhaal is on the patio warmly hugging a white-haired man carrying an Oscar. But of course, the great cinematographer Roger Deakins. “I’m so happy,” Gyllenhaal tells him.
Billie Eilish, with her bright green hair, is yawning. Good thing she’s changed into black beaded Gucci pajamas. Later she seems to perk up, but then gets really shy when she spies Michael B. Jordan in a fuchsia suit through a window.
A woman who looks a lot like Monica Lewinsky is limping, before finding somewhere to sit and rub her feet and eat a burger. Feel you, sister. She turns out to be actual Monica Lewinsky.
“Does this have Red Bull?” Zach Braff wants to know.
A flash of lightbulbs! Let’s go see? Turns out Salma Hayek in turquoise sequins has sat down next to Gal Gadot, in plunging navy sequins. It’s a sequin summit, so bright in the flashing bulbs that Jeremy Renner, smoking next to a heat lamp, has been rendered invisible.
Shia LaBeouf is shouting into a cellphone the size of his face, with one of those cases that holds all your credit cards. “Where are you? Where are you now?”
“Ow!” sings a blonde in a filmy floral dress.
“Ow!” sings her friend.
“Ow, my feet hurt so bad!” sings the blonde, who is Lili Reinhart. Somewhere, Monica Lewinsky is singing harmony.
Bong has arrived! Or so we’re told. We are lying in wait for him when a streak of five lithe figures in chartreuse dance by, a little yellow conga line, with Greta Gerwig, tall and in black, bouncing in between them. Her longtime besties, and they did coordinating colors two years ago, too, when she was up for “Lady Bird.” “It’s in support of our friend Greta,” says one of them, dancing away. “And also so we don’t get lost.”
We follow the yellow skirt road, and suddenly they’re screaming and cheering and jumping up and down.
“BONG! BONG! BONG!”
He’s leaving, they’re leaving, everyone is so happy!
Someone has to take a picture. “I’ll take it!” says Greta, before realizing she should probably be in it.
He’d been there for mere minutes. A drive-by. Just long enough to shake his crazy hair at all the riches on display and get out of there. As soon as he leaves, Greta and “Slave Play” playwright Jeremy O. Harris clutch each other and jump up and down.
“I was like, ‘Oh. My. God.’ I wept so hard. I felt like them winning was everything,” says Harris.
“Everyone stood up and was like” — Greta makes a sound like an ambulance siren. “Every time they won I was like, ‘YES! YES!’ ”
Gerwig and Harris compare post-VF party plans. They all seem to include Netflix, the Chateau Marmont and dying.
Soon the space was empty, save for Renée Zellweger clutching her Oscar, the servers still hawking In-N-Out burgers, and Florence Pugh and Tessa Thompson bonding over the form-fitting designer-loaned gowns they have both managed to rip.
“Your thigh busted? Me too! It’s a fashion choice,” says Pugh. She starts playing with the leather dominatrix-y straps on Thompson’s bustier. “I feel like even if coronavirus came you would be protected,” she marvels.
Thompson gives her a high-five and a hug.
“Honestly, I couldn’t hear what she said, but I think she was just saying, ‘Coronavirus be damned!’ ” says Thompson, “which makes no sense in regard to my dress, but, you know, go for it.”
And so then it was Pugh, the last of the newly minted A-listers on the dance floor, closing out the night in her dress with the busted thigh, leaving kiss marks on everyone she met with her burgundy Pat McGrath lipstick. There she was, in the final moments of the party, sparkling gold like an Oscar, dancing toward the door to Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.” Which is more than could be said of us mere mortals.
READ MORE FROM PAST YEARS: