Independent films tend to favor low-key realism in their lead performances, but Party Girl has a real movie star turn at its center. Parker Posey heads Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s film, a musical comedy slightly too ironic (or maybe just slightly too low-budget) to break into song.
Much like Scherler Mayer’s other almost-musical, the slight but engaging 2003 comedy The Guru, Party Girl features energy and cheer rather than sharp directorial vision (it’s composed largely of static shots and flat, basic editing). The screenplay is better; the clever hook is that Mary (Posey) begins as a hip partying type who, in a reversal of a cliché, blossoms into a responsible librarian.
Accordingly, the movie comes most alive when Posey is let loose on the public library. She finds unlikely employment there out of desperation, thanks to a wary family friend, Judy (Sasha von Scherler). Judy is a serious and dedicated librarian; Mary, initially, is disdainful. Mary and Judy must learn to trust and respect one another, etc., but really, Party Girl is a tale of romance between Mary and her library.
This leads to a wonderful scene around the halfway point, where Mary falls hard for the Dewey Decimal system: as Posey dances around the library to a club beat, Scherler Mayer’s songless musical is briefly in full bloom. Another little number has Mary improvising a Middle Eastern dance and accompanying song; I don’t know of many actresses who could make that delightful, rather than offensive.
Despite these unique talents, Hollywood doesn’t seem to know what to do with Parker Posey (see her funny but wasted performances in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail and 2002’s The Sweetest Thing). A shame, because she’s clearly a godsend to directors low on cash and/or in need of unique comic timing. Maybe more mainstream directors are afraid of her; she does have a tendency to overwhelm the proceedings. Such a solo act is Posey’s performance that even in the library sequences (generally the movie’s best), her tense exchanges with Judy are ham-handed and, sad to say, overacted by the Sasha von Scherler (she looks the part, but rushes to histrionics).
But there are worse fates for a movie than being dominated by Parker Posey. The rest of the Party Girl—and there is much more of “the rest” than necessary—is less than inspired. For one thing, it seems to start five or ten minutes late; over the opening credits, Mary throws one of her apparently famous parties, is arrested and thrown in jail, and gets her library job, all before we know anything about her.
While we want to just hung with Mary at the library, the film gives time to other, less interesting characters (we gradually notice that Posey is playing sort of a Gen-X Mary Richards, but with a weaker supporting cast). Scherler Mayer shows generosity toward her party of New York City hipsters and goofballs, but also a hostess’s affectionately hazy focus. The cute subplot about Mustafa (Omar Townsend), a falafel-cart man, is charming because a smitten Mary is in almost all of his scenes; the cute subplot about Mary’s DJ roommate Leo (Guillermo Díaz) goes nowhere. The whole enterprise gets kind of hapless at the end, with a surprise party, misunderstandings, and even a stale give-an-old-person-a-pot-brownie gag. But before this disappointing finale, Party Girl is good fun.
The Columbia/TriStar DVD of Party Girl is a bare-bones affair with no extra material. This seems almost appropriate for a small film with mostly drab visuals (Mary’s clothes are the most colorful elements on display), but the DVD release seems unnecessary. No one even bothered to include a widescreen version, so, aside from some minimally improved sound and picture, it’s essentially the same as the VHS edition. An earlier Canadian DVD is said to contain a commentary track by Scherler Mayer, which might prove interesting, as she is an unpretentious and inviting speaker. But currently, it’s afestive movie in an unceremonious format. Kind of like Parker Posey appearing in The Sweetest Thing.