by BRITTANY JULIOUS
dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer
The most iconic Party Girl moment for me is Mary's walk of pride post-jail. Things happen to her. Life is something that happens around her parties, outfits, and friendships. A night in jail is just another event in a long line of events, but it can't define her. She is too much her own girl for that.
I say girl instead of woman, as Party Girl is a film about an emotional late bloomer's transition into adulthood. Mary (Parker Posey) may scrape by on rent parties to keep her spacious Chinatown loft or parade around the East Village in Chanel, but she is no more grown in her actions and choices than any other member of the underground party scene that frames the narrative.
I first watched Party Girl in college during my film boom dedicated to post-collegiate happenings. Paranoid about a future that increasingly appeared bleak and rife with stress, I took to films featuring "hip, young things" or just "young things" as a way to seek solace and comfort before the party of sporadic classes and little responsibility ended.
With its charming outfits, spastic supporting characters, and rampant early-90s Manhattan romanticism, Party Girl was a personal favorite. In particular, Parker Posey's talents – the way she needs only a facial expression or two to dominate and escalate the comedy of any given scene, her voice that is simultaneously Valley Girl and know-it-all pretentious – created a lasting impression. Watching it again recently further cemented the film as a modern, independent classic for the girls and women who view "a good time" as a translatable goal from work to play.
For the casual viewer, Mary's transformation from Downtown It Girl to library student is a radical one. But director Daisy von Scherler Mayer subtly hints at the necessary skills of a librarian that Mary possesses throughout the film. She is able to get along – or at least communicate effectively – with different types of people. She has a general curiosity for the world around her and approaches each person she meets with an eagerness to help, or just bring them into her fold. And her closet – organized in a methodical system that only she truly understands – speaks to the Dewey Decimal System, a source of anxiety followed by pleasure for the heroine.
Mary ditches a date with young, dreamy falafel seller Mustafa to learn the Dewey Decimal System, all the while transforming the space into a party-like space of her own. She dances atop the table in her shorts and combat boots. She gets things done (“things” being a knowledge of a system she had been unfamiliar with upon taking the job at the library) while still maintaining a connection to her old self and her true self.
Later, Mary organizes temporary roommate Leo’s record collection based on this same system she spent a long evening trying to understand. Mary honestly described the evening as, “The wildest night of my life.” Understanding the system was further solidification of the connection between her burgeoning interests and her love for organizing the people, places, and things that are a part of her life.
Leo (Guillermo Díaz) is visibly upset by the order that disrupted his chaos of more than 1,000 singles and LP’s, but Mary remains unfazed by the potential problems in her unwarranted organizing project. For Leo, it is a challenge to his lack of a system and the potential catalyst for losing a paid gig as a DJ. For Mary, it is a way to more effectively provide the world to Leo. Like telling Leo earlier about Rene, the owner of the bar that Leo is auditioning at as a DJ, organizing his set of records is a means of helping a friend and bringing him more closely into her fold.
This method doesn’t always prove to be beneficial. A party thrown at the end of the second act turns disastrous for Mary who no longer has her library clerk job. Unlike her work in organizing Leo’s record collection, Mary’s party is another task to make rent. Inviting friends to DJ or Mustafa to sell his food is less a method of helping a friend succeed and more a means of making things better for herself. At 24, Mary’s growing sense of purpose feels familiar, but it is her quick emotional descent once that newly-found career path is taken from her that is disturbing in its truth.
Thus far in this decade of personal development, I have realized people are unhappy or dissatisfied, that it is not just an internal frustration, but also a universal, generational worry. I’ve also realized that people have many goals and aspirations, and the older they get, the more hesitant they are to admit them. Goals begin to feel like things that young people do and accomplish, and now one’s goals should be simpler: fall in love, get married, have children, live in comfort. I remember how my friends talked about what they wanted to do, but now they talk more about what things have been done to them. There is a loss of control. Career goals are still exciting, but the ability to hold on to them as reality loudly asserts the difficulties of The Way We Live Now, can crush even the most starry-eyed party girls.
Mary eventually triumphs as friends and coworkers believe in her and it is this moment that makes the film so memorable. As a viewer, I come back to Party Girl for the fashion, the dialogue, but also the "happy ending." There is a comfort in seeing one’s life not end in a similar way to how it began: confused, jumbled, and floundering.
"Peter Piper" - Run DMC (mp3)
"Mama Told Me Not To Come" - The Wolfgang Press (mp3)
"Burning (Vibe mix)" - MK (mp3)