Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s Party Girl is 94 minutes of pure joy. In it, Mary (Parker Posey) stumbles into a job at the New York Public Library to fund her Chanel habit, and you know, pay rent. It sounds simple enough, but if you picture a timeline of Memorable Female Film Protagonists, you’ll see Mary somewhere between Holly Golightly and Carrie Bradshaw. Party Girl is a stylish, forgotten gem in which Posey, with much effervescence and deadpan wit, drops phrases like “diva velvet glove section” and exudes wild “okay, boomer” energy 24 years before it was cool.
Released in the dead centre of the 1990s, Party Girl takes a pretty standard narrative and lets it simmer within an aesthetically electric subculture. Scherler Mayer captures this brilliantly through music and dialogue, not unlike the film’s more widely appreciated contemporaries, Go and Hackers. While Party Girl may not have the well-regarded underground reputation of either of those movies, it does have two very notable things going for it: Parker Posey and the internet.
Yes, Party Girl was the first feature film to debut on the internet. We all remember what that dial-up life was like, right? Well, one day early in June of 1995, Parker Posey introduced the film to an audience gathered at Glenn Fleishman’s Point of Presence Company offices and pushed a button that then broadcast the film to several hundred viewers over the world wide web. Thus, the film made history as soon as it premiered, and that bit of quintessential 90s trivia supports the idea that Party Girl exists as a sort of primer for current millennial culture.
As for Parker Posey, she is the axis around which Party Girl rotates. She deftly depicts our protagonist Mary as a Proto-Millennial Barbie, complete with a closet full of Gaultier and Pucci, a posse of attractive multi-ethnic friends, a vocabulary rich in ballroom slang, and an over-40 godmother from whom she occasionally wrangles rent money. She is literally a party girl, organising the hottest illegal house parties all over Manhattan, but when that gig lands her in jail she’s compelled to figure out a way to continue the fun and still pay the bills.
Watching Mary struggle to figure out what she wants her 20-something life to look like is painfully relatable. Her journey lands her at the library, where she becomes a clerk thanks to her librarian godmother, Judy (played by the filmmaker’s mother, Sasha von Scherler). Here, a Shakespearian-style drama plays out between the two women. They clash in the typical way many inter=generational relationships tend to, as Mary is both at odds with and indebted to Judy. At first, Mary approaches the job with a level of indifference that would make Daria proud, but after much provocation from her fellow librarians, she discovers she’s actually really damn good at her job.
When Mary begins to find her footing, the film seems to match her verve, floating from the club, to the falafel stand, to her loft, and back to the library again in a flash of colour and Deee-lite songs. The quick scene cuts also act as a runway on which costume designer Michael Clancy can show off his sartorial prowess. There is a particularly brilliant montage during which Mary repeatedly visits her falafel-slinging love interest, Mustafa, at his street cart. For each visit we see Mary sporting a totally unique and absolutely brilliant outfit that looks like it came from the current I.AM.GIA collection.
If Party Girl were made in 2019, not much would need to change. Sure, no one has said the words “Card Catalogue” in ten years, but someone as well-versed in both the Dewey Decimal system and fashion labels as Mary could easily be re-written as a freelance fashion writer, à la Leandra Medine. She would absolutely be played by Tavi Gevinson, and the soundtrack would slap. Besides the library setting, the only thing that feels dated about the film is a tacky South Asian-inspired warehouse party Mary facilitates. Not even Parker Posey can make cultural appropriation charming. It does feel fitting, though, that such a gauche party acts as a backdrop for Mary to be on her worst behaviour. Up to this point in the movie, Mary’s predicaments have been approached rather comically, but when the film briefly takes a serious turn, it is Posey’s performance that keeps the film from feeling bogged down by tropes. She gives Mary a subtle nuance that makes her situation feel human and relatable.
The things that make Party Girl such an unforgettable film are the very things that feed our current 90s nostalgia. We can’t get enough of the fashion and blasé attitudes; the early tech vibes contrasted with the abundance of lo-fi analogue goodness. Oh, and the music. Party Girl’s soundtrack doesn’t disappoint and is best served immediately after viewing the film, with your speakers high enough that you might get a noise violation.
by Maria Lavender
Maria Lavender is a graphic designer with a black cat and a white laptop on which she likes to watch a lot of giallo horror movies. In addition to looking more interesting and dynamic on Instagram, she also excels at putting outfits together and reading books. According to Letterboxd, her favorite films are The VVitch, Blue Velvet, Certified Copy, and Party Girl. She is also a party girl that writes and discusses films for The Parallax Review.
Categories: Women Film-makers