Color, 1995, 94 mins. 11 secs.
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Starring Parker Posey, Guillermo Diaz, Donna Mitchell, Sasha von Scherler, Anthony DeSando, Liev Schreiber
Fun City Editions (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Sony (DVD-R) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Millennium (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
A significant cult hit on VHS in the '90s that somehow fell through the cracks in more recent years, Party Girl is a prime example of the kind of small indie film that could break through with festival exposure (Sundance, in this case) and a breakthrough star. The feature debut from director and co-writer Daisy von Scherler Mayer (who's since gone on to a very busy and thriving TV career), it served as a major calling card for lead Parker Posey who had already shown her scene-stealing abilities in supporting roles in Dazed and Confused and Sleep with Me. With this role she became one of the most recognizable indie stars of the era, knocking it out of the park in films like the underrated The House of Yes, The Daytrippers, all of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries, and the inexplicably buried The Misadventures of Margaret, before taking on a string of Hollywood studio roles as well. Still one of Posey's finest hours, Party Girl has now become an invaluable snapshot of the New York City filmmaking and club landscape in the middle of the decade and still works as a charming alternate rom-com, too.
A legend on the NYC party scene, Mary (Posey) can't seem to commit to a job to support her splashy lifestyle, even waitressing or catering. During massive loft party with all of her cohorts, roomie Derrick (DeSando) splits with the rent. Unable to pay party DJ Leo and thrown in the slammer for multiple infractions, she turns to her godmother, public librarian Judy Lindendorf (Sasha von Scherler), to get a job as a clerk -- only to find herself confronting everything from the dreaded Dewey Decimal System to unruly patrons. As she tries to evolve, Mary sparks a possible romance with falafel stand hawker Mustafa (Diaz) and learns how to apply her new skills across her spectrum of friends.
Mounting an entire quirky comedy about someone's growing passion for becoming a librarian doesn't sound like the most promising premise, but Party Girl gets a lot of mileage out of its winning central character. Drawing daffy inspiration from classic Hollywood screwball comedies with employment taking the place of the leading man and a little more sexual frankness along the way, it's a seemingly lightweight entertainment with a splashy, colorful style and a heroine who turns out to be more complicated than her irresponsible, frazzled introduction might indicate. It's mostly Posey's show, obviously, but the whole cast does well including a small early role for Liev Schreiber (long before reuniting with Posey in Scream 3, albeit never in the same scene), here sporting a goofy accent. The soundtrack is a beast as well, cramming a lot of familiar and obscure dance tracks from the era that'll bring a smile to the face of anyone who remembers the Clinton era.
Released theatrically and on VHS by the now long-defunct First Look, Party Girl has turned up on DVD a few times looking not terribly impressive thanks to dated SD masters. The 2023 Blu-ray from Fun City Editions (which also comes in a limited slipcover edition) looks terrific thanks to a 4K restoration from the 16mm camera negative, breathing new life to the film with its influential fashion design now much easier to appreciate along with far better detail and more refined film grain. Fans are going to be ecstatic. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds solid and features optional English SDH subtitles. A new audio commentary by writer Jake Fogelnest talks about the "playground" area of the film he knows so well, the key faces who pop up like The Lady Bunny, his own background as a teen doing public access there that had him rubbing shoulders with the same crowd, and the resourcefulness required to pull the film off on a skimpy budget right down to the cast providing some of their own wardrobe. "Designing a Character" (35m49s) is a newly filmed video interview with Mayer about her showbiz family background, her plans to become a theater director, the genesis of this film, the elements that coalesced into creating Mary, the other influential filmmakers around the time like Spike Lee, Pedro Almodóvar, and John Sayles, and the subversive elements she wanted to bring to the screwball formula. In "Like an Old Movie" (24m22s), Posey chats about her background watching classic comedies with her grandmother, her immediate positive response to the script, the melting pot of personalities in New York, the inspiration behind her character, and her acting background leading up to the film. "DJ’ing to Picture" (16m2s) features music supervisor Bill Coleman talking about catching the right essence with the soundtrack by combining new and established bands from the scene, mingling in the Lower East Side scene, being the manager for Deee-Lite (thus their musical presence here), and the connections that brought in songs by the likes of Tom Tom Club. Finally in "Power to the Librarians" (18m15s), co-writer and co-producer Harry Birckmayer looks back at the brainstorming process that nurtured the concept, the films by Frank Capra, Ernst Lubitsch, and Howard Hawks that he drew from, and the fun working process of developing the script from outline to fragments to the final version." Also included are an image gallery (4m45s) with lots of ephemera from Mayer's collection, plus the theatrical trailer; the package also comes with a booklet featuring a new essay by DJ and writer Margaret Barton-Fumo.
Reviewed on April 25, 2023