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Party Girl ’95

by Glenn Erickson Mar 21, 2023

Here’s the eager New York independent production that snagged Parker Posey for her first starring role — as a Manhattan party animal who eventually finds stable footing as a (gasp) librarian. Life is tough when you can’t make the rent. This latter-day Holly Golightly has problems with flaky instability, but the guy selling falafel downstairs is a cute distraction. The bid to revive the screwball comedy illuminates Ms. Posey’s appeal, aided by a number of capable supporting actors. Despite a budget that doesn’t allow for big scenes or production frills, director & co-screenwriter Daisy von Scherler Mayer keeps the fun going. FCE’s extras give us the main players in new interviews.


Party Girl ’95
Blu-ray
Fun City Editions
1995 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 94 min. / Limited Edition / Street Date March 28, 2023 / Available from FCE / 27.99
Starring: Parker Posey, Anthony De Sando, Liev Schreiber, Guillermo Diaz, Omar Townsend, Sasha von Scherler, Donna Mitchell.
Cinematography: Michael Slovis
Production Designer: Kevin Thompson
Costume Design: Michael Clancy
Film Editor: Cara Silverman
Original Music: Anton Sanko
Screenplay by Daisy von Scherler Mayer, Harry Birckmayer, Sheila Gaffney story by Mayer & Birckmayer
Produced by Harry Birckmayer, Stephanie Koules
Directed by
Daisy von Scherler Mayer

This 1990’s comedy Party Girl was not something I was familiar with, but we’re fans of Parker Posey, a winning personality who rose outside the usual industry publicity machine. That, and Fun City Editions’ selections have never let us down. The disc boutique has been surprising us with winners ever since Smile two years ago.

Self-described as a screwball comedy, Party Girl was Parker Posey’s first starring role, one that cemented her association with independent cinema. I think I first encountered her doing video promos for 1994’s Sleep with Me, and have since enjoyed catching her work in Dazed and Confused,  Kicking and Screaming and especially Clockwatchers. Party Girl is definitely on the low-budget end of things. Its director/co-producer Daisy von Scherler Mayer would seem to be aiming to use comedy to crack the gender barrier in film, as did Susan Seidelman ten years before. We Californian film students look at the credit for New York’s DuArt film lab, and immediately associate the movie with efforts by the likes of Abel Ferrara and Slava Tsukerman. You know, DuART.

With its club background Party Girl is a bit like Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco, disco being replaced with all ’90s dance music. Ms. Posey’s fashion-conscious lead character initially reminds us a bit of an earlier era’s Holly Golightly, in that she’s an independent young New Yorker, to some degree adrift and out of control, who gets along with good spirits, flirting, and occasional illegal party ‘organizing.’ Strictly speaking, we’d have to call the screenplay conventionally structured, with a wrap-up that borders on corny. The direction is very good considering the production’s budget limitations. The extended cast of festive revelers and night crawlers seems limited to the 25 dedicated friends of the main talent. Some of the performances are a little weak too, but not in a way that detracts from the film’s overall positive appeal. The disc’s audio commentator tells us that Party Girl is a confirmed cult item. I’m more likely to see it again just to have fun with the mischievous Parker Posey.

 

The setting is the club scene in Manhattan, frequented by young fashionistas, agreeable LGBT folk and various wannabes. Except for occasional squabbles at the doors, it’s a harmonious scene. Ambitious but rudderless Mary (Parker Posey) is behind on her rent. The illegal charity party she cooks up lands her in the pokey for various infractions including restricted substances. As ever, Mary’s godmother and guardian Judy Lindendorf (Sasha von Scherler, the director’s mother) bails her out. Judy runs a branch of the public library. In a moment of weakness she gives Mary a job as a clerk in an attempt to curb her erratic lifestyle. Mary discovers that she loves to organize things, but self-esteem issues are a problem. Her emotional ups and downs lead to mistakes that make Judy thinki she’s incorrigible.

Mary doesn’t realize it, but she’s the center of a group of devoted friends and associates. Aspiring DJ Leo (Guillermo Diaz) moves in with Mary, just to have a place to stay; she helps him get a start at the hot club run by the stern Rene (Donna Mitchell). Rene’s tough act conceals the fact that she’s a recovering alcoholic and prone to her own fits of instability. Another friend is Derrick (Anthony De Sando), who pines for the return of a one-night-stand boyfriend. Mary’s present boyfriend Nigel (Liev Schreiber of Spotlight and Twilight) is a club doorman and bartender. Mary is a notorious flirt, especially when drunk or high, and Nigel isn’t pleased when she develops a crush on the sweet, serious immigrant Mustafa (Omar Townsend), who sells food from a cart even though he was a teacher back in his home country.

 

Mary’s emotional zigzags aren’t all comedic. A screenwriter’s sidebar compares her lifestyle to the mythical Sisyphus. Always broke, she augments her terrific wardrobe by stealing clothing at house parties (!). She screws up at the library by raising her voice and eventually gets fired for leaving some windows open on the night of a rainstorm. She sabotages her budding romance with Mustafa by getting drunk and forgetting their important date. At one point she organizes yet another fantastic impromptu club party, one so unique that even Rene is impressed. But Mary again gets loaded, fights off Nigel’s advances and ends up sleeping on a stairwell. Although Mary asserts her essential worth with Nigel, she tells others that she’s useless. Yet she teaches herself how to be a real librarian with a single night’s concentrated study — and then reorganizes Leo’s DJ 1000-album record collection using the Dewey Decimal system.

Party Girl’s freshness and invention isn’t very consistent. The writing is a bit stiff here and there, and the direction doesn’t always achieve screwball velocity. Perhaps the budget didn’t allow for a lot of flexibility, because some of the sidebar characters end up delivering cute moments suitable for a TV sitcom. There’s never much doubt that Mary will prevail, and the cast will exit dancing. Yet Parker Posey holds it together, hitting the right pitch and tone by sheer instinct. Party Girl may not be as consistently hilarious as Tom DeCillo’s Living in Oblivion, but the insights into Mary’s capricious character win us over. And any show that billboards the importance of libraries and librarians is to be applauded.

Parker Posey carries the starring role with ease. She’s forthright, funny, vulnerable and sincere when it’s time to communicate the truth to this or that person. The scenes where Mary is supposed to be a flibbertigibbet are the least-well written, but many of the dialogues play good variations on miscommunication mishaps. Leo is so struck by the pretty club dancer Venus (Nicole Bobbitt) that he screws up his DJ segues on the job. Mary and Mustapha’s dialogue interchanges have a fresh appeal. Some of the party regulars seem to have been enlisted right from the clubs, and seem authentic enough.

 

The least effective material is with club boss Rene, who starts as a stern taskmaster and by the end is doing comesy support, convinced that Mary is deranged. Library boss Judy has some very nice scenes, but also feels a bit ‘sitcom’ when it comes time to flip the script for a happy-happy EGBOK finale. The show always supports Parker Posey’s versatility, general appeal and winning good looks. Plus, she must have the most perfect teeth of the 1990s.

Party Girl isn’t after a ‘New York independent’ style — it’s handheld only when people are dancing. The budget shows — scenes stay bright and clear, even if the camerawork doesn’t get the extra time for ‘extended creativity.’ A close-up on Ms. Posey performs a Hitchcock smash-zoom, the perspective-warping truck-zoom seen here and there in Vertigo. We wouldn’t be surprised that it was decided to skip other such ‘director’s touches’ — the trick shot probably took too much time to achieve.

This is Liev Schreiber’s third or fourth movie, and he’s very good. A cursory look shows that Donna Mitchell, Anthony DeSando, Guillermo Diaz and Sascha von Scherler have lengthy acting filmographies, while this is a lone credit for the very effective Omar Townsend. Special mention should be made for costume designer Michael Clancy, who must have worked hard with the star and the director to organize Mary’s many arresting wardrobe changes, an essential for this show. To dress this stylishly, Mary would have to be stealing clothes left and right!

 


 

Fun City Editions’ Blu-ray of Party Girl ’95 is yet another exotic, exceptional show given an exactingly polished remaster. The widescreen images are clear and colorful, and the lighting shows Parker Posey off at all times. She’s best in medium shots and close-ups, where we can see the thought processes moving across her face; she also handles a couple of drunken and stoned sequences without becoming a clown.

In his interview producer/co-screenwriter Harry Brickmayer says that the show was filmed in Super-16, which is a surprise. The work of cinematographer Michael Slovis (Breaking Bad) now seems even more accomplished. FCE lists the soundtrack as stereophonic, and the titles credit ‘Ultra Stereo.’ No complaints there either — the club scenes manage a level of extravagance without a lot of resources, with an audio ambience that convinces.

The audio commentary is by Jake Fogelnest, who never exactly explains why he was chosen to speak. He does seem to understand ‘the scene’ as he calls it. Through him we learn that some of Mary’s screen wardrobe came from Parker Posey’s own closet, which isn’t surprising.

The four new interviews give us plenty of time with the principal creatives. Ms. Posey describes at length her background and the process by which her career got into gear. Director Daisy von Scherler Mayer begins her talk by describing her family’s show / film business background. Music supervisor Bill Coleman is responsible for the film’s admired ‘feel’ for mid-90’s dance music. His interesting segment gets further into the dance club background. Harry Brickmayer augments Daisy’s explanations of how the show came together. He cites film teacher Janine Basinger as a main force behind the movie getting made. Coleman’s background included library culture — the show’s celebration of the value of libraries appears to come from him.

The insert pamphlet essayist Margaret Barton-Fumo is a font of information about the film’s music, the ’90s dance tracks supervised by Bill Coleman. FCE’s package has new artwork on an exterior sleeve, reversible with the film’s attractive one-sheet art.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Party Girl ’95
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Good, for Parker Posey Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements —
New interviews:
Audio commentary by writer Jake Fogelnest
Designing a Character, with director Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Like an Old Movie, with star Parker Posey
DJ’ing to Picture, with music supervisor Bill Coleman
Power to the Librarians, with co-writer and co-producer Harry Birckmayer
Image gallery, theatrical trailer
Insert pamphlet with an essay by DJ and writer Margaret Barton-Fumo.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
March 18, 2023
(6902part)
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Text © Copyright 2023 Glenn Erickson

About Glenn Erickson

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 6.51.08 PM

Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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