Movies We Like
A few years ago a film premiered at Sundance starring several major blockbuster stars, shot by a couple of music video directors, and produced by a small, but successful Hollywood production company. Because of an aggressive marketing campaign and a highly publicized distribution deal, the film won several Academy Awards and made more than $100 million. Regardless of its high star wattage, its directors’ wealth of commercial experience, and Hollywood development credentials, it was still termed an “independent film.” 11 years previous, for 1/50th of its modern counterpart’s budget, Party Girl was made in New York by a first time filmmaker, starring an actress who, except for a notable supporting turn in a Richard Linklater comedy, had had only small character parts in independent films. Party Girl was accepted into Sundance that year and garnered only a limited theatrical run. But over the years through word of mouth, it has become a beloved cult hit, quoted ad nauseam by its devotees, whose ranks multiply yearly.
The plot seems at first utterly conventional, straying between nominally feminist chick flick to slacker comedy. Downtown It girl Mary (Parker Posey) is unemployed, on the verge of eviction, and “fabulous,” which in movie parlance means she wears quirky outfits and uses her acerbic wit against her friends. When she gets arrested for turning her apartment into a makeshift nightclub, Mary is bailed out by her godmother, Judy, a librarian. In order to pay Judy back and to prove herself to as capable and trustworthy, Mary becomes a clerk at Judy’s library. Gaining her good opinion is complicated by Judy’s constant panting that she can’t trust Mary because she reminds her so much of her mother, an irrational grousing that is the movie’s only major flaw. Mary’s mother may have been quite the party-goer, but many young women are, and one can’t hold young people accountable for doing the same things that their parents did when they were the same age. I would be extremely frustrated if my grandparents always said, “Gillian, you’re such a bleeding heart liberal, just like your mother was when she was your age. I won’t be surprised if you end up getting divorced, too.”
In most movies of this genre, Mary would prove her responsibility and intelligence by harnessing her femininity to her advantage by translating her party-loving sociability into entrepreneurial skills. Movies where female protagonists use stereotypically female frivolous traits like shopping or beautification to gain respect and enter positions of authority reinforce false perceptions among women that clinging to traditional gender roles can still benefit them in modern society. Unlike Troop Beverly Hills or Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, in Party Girl Mary recognizes the detrimental effects of her superficiality on her friends and on herself. Rather than giving her enemies makeovers and introducing them to the insecurity and vacuity of the world of fashion, Mary realizes her vocation in the library sciences and resolves to gain the confidence of Judy and her peers. Party Girl is a fun film with a positive message powered by Parker Posey’s truly sassy and engaging performance. Certain scenes suffer from tired comedy clichÃ©s like gay sidekicks or male strippers, but Posey’s consummate delivery, timing, and body language pull the film’s weaker elements into her comically perfect orbit. And luckily she’s in almost every scene.