BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — “In 20 years of coming, this is the most fun I’ve ever had,” Adrien Brody, the Oscar-winning actor, said at Vanity Fair’s annual Oscars party on Sunday. “I had real conversations, about politics, life and art.’’
For a change at this annual convening of industry luminaries real conversation was all but unavoidable. The primary reason was the train wreck that was Will Smith slapping Chris Rock onstage.
“That moment, I can’t talk about it,” said Amy Schumer, who hosted the Oscars with Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall, after chatting with Larry David just outside the tented dance floor. “It was such a big deal and I’m still processing it, and I have to be so careful,” she added, before turning to a cluster of friends for a lifeline. “Somebody get me to stop talking.”
It has been nearly 40 years since Tina Brown, the former Vanity Fair editor, conceived of a party that would steal the thunder from Swifty Lazar’s Oscar wingding. Mr. Lazar not only knew how to rope in the stars, Ms. Brown observed in her published diaries. He also domesticated a “menagerie” that attended on his terms or not at all.
When a celebrity of Mr. Smith’s stature acts out in public, it is more than a source of clucking editorials and viral memes. It’s a threat to the fiction of show-business kumbaya. This year’s Vanity Fair party, then, had something of the air of a celebrity campfire circle. Other Oscar parties — such as one given by Madonna and Guy Oseary — may be more intimate and exclusive, but nothing tops Vanity Fair for sheer boldface volume.
And so for a few late-night hours in a series of tents, gardens and outdoor lounges at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, the most famous people on the planet mingled, danced, drank and smoked (weed mostly), and proved what a great leveler celebrity can be. It is a universally established truth in Hollywood that at, a certain level of fame, everyone is your best friend.
To reach the sanctum, invited guests had to pass through a series of security checkpoints (negative PCR test results were required) and a blue carpet lined with shouting photographers. Some luminous glow worms, including Billie Eilish, Pedro Almodóvar and Jessica Chastain (wearing an emerald-green Gucci dress that evoked Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”), were then immediately diverted to a private studio where Mark Seliger shot their formal portraits.
Others processed directly into the actual party, where cameras phones and other recording devices had been strictly forbidden. Surprisingly few people flouted the no-phone rules to capture such theatrical moments as Kathy Hilton dancing with Marjorie Gubelmann, a.k.a. DJ Mad Marj, or Bill Murray wearing a jaunty beret, dancing alone.
If they stuck around past midnight, they would have caught Will Smith, seemingly unruffled by the controversy he had just stirred up, accompanied by his wife and children, and shimmying to “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.”
They would also have snagged Serena Williams towering over the crowd in a silver minidress, and Zendaya standing beside a potted palm tree and locked in conversation with Timothée Chalamet, both surrounded by a nimbus of marijuana smoke exhaled by an acquaintance.
They would have seen Jason Bateman locked in a bro-hug with Kevin Bacon; Jon Hamm momentarily alone near the men’s room looking forlorn as a pound puppy; Kristen Stewart wafting along in a floor-length black lace dress; and Zoë Kravitz chain smoking Marlboros.
They would have caught Sarah Paulson shouting, “Dog! Dog! Dog!,” as she shoved past Kate Hudson and Chris Pine to pet a stranger’s fluffy white pooch.
In the Before Times, it was customary for the most famous to dutifully work the red carpet and make a glad-handing circuit or two, before slipping out to another, presumably better party.
Midnight was the traditional witching hour. This time around the mood was more convivial, and for obvious reasons. Two years of separation has taken its toll on the celebrity herd.
“People are genuinely happy to see each other again,” said Georgina Chapman, the fashion designer, as partygoers pressed against each other so tightly on their way to one of the tequila bars that it was easy to forget such a thing as social distancing ever existed.
“Of course,” Ms. Chapman added, “next week we’ll all get Covid.’”