BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — We are pushing through a thicket, a dense, lurching thicket of brocade and tulle, when two handsomely weathered faces emerge in a clearing. But they are traveling on opposite vectors, these small, familiar strangers, and so we must choose:
Do we follow Sam Rockwell, or do we follow Willem Dafoe?
This is the brutal math of the Vanity Fair Oscar party. You will never be surrounded by as many A-listers as you are on this one gilded evening — but if you lose a certain special one in the crowd, you may never find her again. Regina King will enter the room with an eight-pound golden man in her grip, and suddenly, poof. Glenn Close will vanish from your side before you can apply your patented celebrity body-language analysis to her post-loss mood.
We fall in behind Rockwell and quickly find ourselves in a convoy, because it turns out he is pulling Taraji P. Henson through this thicket of bodies. At the next clearing, he delivers Henson to a tall, dark-haired woman who not only hugs the actress, but reaches around to — whap, whap, whap — smack her on the bottom. Now, she must be someone, this creature of such luminous skin and impressive spanking privileges with a veteran Oscar nominee, who is now helping to reattach the clasp holding Henson’s neckline together. Rockwell, meanwhile, has found Chris Evans, in a teal velvet tuxedo jacket tonight, and they are cheerfully bro-ing out.
“Let’s do it!” Rockwell tells Captain America. “Let’s [effing] do it, man!” And then he reaches back into the clearing to smack the dark-haired vixen on the behind, and it’s really a party now! The luminous lady is Leslie Bibb, an actress and Rockwell’s longtime girlfriend — thanks, Google. We follow this growing conga line of fun, spanky celebrities as it heads toward the dance floor — what do you suppose we’re going to effing do? But an arm reaches out to waylay Henson near the bar.
“Jon Hamm!” she shouts and claps her hands and bounces a bit before succumbing into his embrace with a pleased little shiver. He quietly explains the source of his magic: “It’s a corduroy tuxedo.”
It was a relief to see all this A-list fun-having. Last week, the New York Times caused a stink by declaring that the Vanity Fair party, a Hollywood institution since 1994, had lost its heat — that the legendarily exclusive guest list had been diluted with an influx of business execs and grubby journalists, while an ever-more elite party hosted by Jay-Z and Beyoncé had stolen its thunder. In return, Vanity Fair disinvited the paper’s party correspondent, and strong opinions were shared on Twitter, and the whole thing made us so sad because we love everybody and want everyone to be friends and not ruin senior year for us.
And the truth is, the Vanity Fair party is much the same as it’s ever been. There has always been a fancier, more secretive party somewhere up in the hills that the most popular kids vanish off to at some point in the night. There has always been a healthy number of non-famous guests in the mix. But celebrities don’t really mind being around rich corporate suits, and they don’t really notice us. They’ve got so much else going on here.
Rami Malek has not yet arrived, but here is Sacha Baron Cohen, the man who walked away from the Oscar-winning role of Freddie Mercury, his body language exuding good sportsmanship here on this night that could have been his and is not.
He is sitting on a couch in a position we’ve all been in, neither in one conversation nor another — on one side, wife Isla Fisher looking up and away to chat with a pixie-cut woman; on his other, Mindy Kaling has turned away from him as well, flinging both leg and arm across that of her erstwhile boyfriend B.J. Novak, whatever that’s about. But Cohen is keeping his face engaged, staring straight into the room, focusing his eyes — God bless him — not staring at his phone like some of the husbands here. He’s wearing whimsical candy-striped socks.
“Hi, I’m Jeff,” the richest man in the world is saying to Gerard Butler, and they have some jolly laughs and then make finger guns to each other in parting. Jeffrey P. Bezos moves onto the patio, where he promises Jon Voight and a couple women who could be models that he’ll either see them next at Jay-Z’s or at Madonna’s. (Maybe Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, could take some notes for us there?)
Lupita Nyong’o has arrived wearing the loveliest full-body snow-white feather duster, from which Lakeith Stanfield is cautiously withdrawing his fingertips. “You know I can’t resist,” he says with a sheepish grin.
She obviously didn’t get the memo: You don’t have to wear the same thing to the party that you did to the show. Jennifer Lopez, who walked the red carpet in a liquid disco ball molded to her singular form, has changed into a silvery something that looks a little less couture and a lot more comfortable. Laura Dern, exquisitely strapless onstage, has changed into a looser, full-skirted gown held up by wide straps. But that doesn’t stop her from teasing Sarah Paulson, who has plopped onto the floor in a pool of cherry-red satin to relieve her feet: “I’m sorry, you can’t take shoes off, that’s not appropriate.” Oh yeah? Tell that to Priyanka Chopra, who has cast her spike heels upon a drinks table on the smoking patio and is enjoying a cigarette at roughly the same altitude, for once, as her new husband, Nick Jonas.
Hey, at this hour of the night, comfort is key. Melissa McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, have arrived wearing matching black Adidas track suits — McCarthy wearing her jewels still — a choice that so delights James Corden he fondly wipes his hands down both sides of Falcone’s face.
Jason Momoa is still gamely wearing that talker of a blush-pink velvet suit that clung to his mighty frame through the show, but now — and this is so crucial — he has lost the pesky shirt. Just some chest fur and love beads taking in the night air, thank you very much, with his hair up off his neck in a scrunchie, as he grooves on the edge of the dance floor to Pharrell’s “Happy,” all by himself — no wait, his tiny consort, Lisa Bonet, is right there with him. (Sorry, Lisa! Your man was blocking our view!)
Rami Malek has not arrived, but the DJ keeps trying to will him in existence, first getting the crowd bobbing with “Under Pressure,” later with “Don’t Stop Me Now.” It doesn’t work.
You know who’s good at parties? Mark Hamill. Good listener. Asks good questions. Has nice things to say. He’s chatting up Keegan-Michael Key about his bit where he floated through the Dolby Theatre on an umbrella like Mary Poppins. How much did he have to rehearse? Was it fun?
The part on wires was awesome. “It was so carefree!” Key says. “They asked me if I wanted to present, and I said yes, and then they said, we’ve got this bit, and I read it, and I said, this is AMAZING.” Hamill agrees.
Hamill asks Topher Grace about his role in “BlacKkKlansman,” as David Duke. “I love the way you play him as so affable,” Hamill says, and Grace seems blown away by the praise from Luke Skywalker, and suggests that a generation ago, that role would have been Hamill’s. And then they’re off and running, discussing cinematic alternative history: “ ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ won and ‘Do the Right Thing’ wasn’t even nominated? That’s crazy.”
Amy Poehler and Pamela Adlon are having a comedian huddle, right behind the Frances McDormand/Maya Rudolph huddle. “I was dying,” Adlon rasps. “Dead. I’m [effing] dead.” Pause. Shift to upbeat tone. “Otherwise, how are you doing? This is a great party!”
They part ways and Adlon turns to us. “I can’t find my gay best friend who I brought to this party, and he has my phone!” Oh, you’ll find another here, we say. Gay best friend, we mean. Ha ha, making a lame joke, sorry.
Rami Malek has still not arrived, and we are beginning to panic. Did his publicist read the Times story? Phones are consulted — oh yikes. Rami Malek fell off the Dolby Theatre stage? Paramedics got involved? Details are hazy: He got back up on his feet and gave a press conference. But maybe it’s best he didn’t come tonight. Nothing personal! No hard feelings! Everything’s fine!
Because now we’re within earshot of Beck, and he is saying something to his wingman that sounds like, “Let’s see Gaga and then split.” Something like that. We are definite about the Gaga part.
They beat a path to the center of the room where a larger clearing than usual has appeared, and in a pool of light she is there. Beck approaches, and there are hugs, and smiles and pleasantries, but we can’t brush closer because there’s a strange buffer space of emptiness around them, as unfamous guests stand in a circle, a discreet foot or two away, and pretend they’re not watching.