One thing I notice the older I get is how people in my age bracket and above can demonstrate a dismissive attitude toward the young. I want to be clear: I’m not talking about older people rolling their eyes at adolescent nostalgia. I’m talking about a profound inability to remember what it meant, and even more specifically, what it felt like to be young. If a young person is heedless and aimless and hell bent on sarcasm deflecting their own heedlessness and aimlessness it often seems as if adults critical of this heedlessness and aimlessness and sarcasm conveniently forget their own youthful heedlessness and aimlessness and sarcasm; like when you age it adds wisdom and subtracts confusion and suddenly they’re all Confucius and “tsk-tsk.” In other words, it’s the antithesis of empathy. If one cliché is that youth is wasted on the young then perhaps wisdom is wasted on the aged who know better than you do.
“Party Girl” is the one film in my 1995 series that I did not actually see in 1995. (I caught up with the film three years later during a time when I was heavy into Parker Posey’s filmography.) That would have been difficult. Even if I knew of it at the time, which I didn’t, it was a hardcore indie, and in 1995, Des Moines, Iowa was not a bastion of indie cinema. Released on June 9, 1995, it actually premiered via the Internet six days earlier, the first official full-length Internet film premiere – like, two months before Sandra Bullock explained “The Net” to those of us who didn’t really understand it. That, of course, can make “Party Girl” feel dated, and being dated is actually its ally. This is a film that takes us back, not just to an era but to a specific time in life when Personal Fulfillment seems both idiotic and just a hair's breadth away.
I’ve had people younger than me express confusion about how so many of us carry a torch for Parker Posey and perhaps that is because you had to be there - which is to say, you had be to be around in the 90’s. Panning the film at the time for the San Francisco Chronicle, Edward Guthmann wrote that Posey was “long on chutzpah and sarcasm and short on charm.” Uh, hell-o. Earth to Guthmann. It was the n.i.n.e.t.i.e.s. Get your wack-ass charm outta here cuz we ain’t having it. Chutzpah and sarcasm was what we wanted, like Alicia Silverstone in the “Cryin’” video, like Winona Ryder, like Parker effing Posey as Mary the Party Girl. The movie was set in the 80’s but I would have recognized that mid-90’s sass anywhere. She was the protagonist of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” but played with the brassy Whatever-ism of D’Arcy.
The late great Roger Ebert wasn’t a fan. “As for Mary,” he writes, “her life is disorganized, yes, but the script could nevertheless organize its approach to her, so that the audience wouldn't feel as confused as she is most of the time.” These are not criticisms with which I can quibble, yet these criticisms, in their own way, enhance the film. I was confused when I finally caught up with it, marooned in my early twenties, confused beyond all get-out. And watching a character mirroring my confusion and venting in the bliss of late-night parties and moderate to occasionally extreme immaturities brought not so much a sense of comfort as relief.
Ebert contends that ultimately “the movie never pulls itself together.” Perhaps. Perhaps it never wants to pull itself together. It’s episodic; some episodes are like a more rave oriented “Caroline in the City” and others are like an after school special gone hella wrong. It flits from here to there, and sometimes back again, and sometimes somewhere else altogether. There’s an arc here, but it’s the arc of a twenty something who doesn't have it together and doesn't want to get it together but kinda does want to get it together. Maybe. And so the screenplay gives her an escape hatch in the form of her librarian job. She gets, loses it, but then decides she'll get it back again, studying to be one, to making something with her life that goes beyond parties.
Seventeen or eighteen years out here in the future her crusade for self-identity feels a little.....lacking. Like, the movie never quite takes her on the necessary journey to that point of true enlightenment. Yet true enlightenment, as anyone in their thirties and beyond can tell you, so rarely happens that early in your life. You're still scrounging, still carving out your identity, still thinking you can simply quit the party scene and then everything'll be hunky dory.
That's why an older person might look at Mary and shake his or her head. “She has no idea,” they might scoff. And she probably doesn't. And so what? “Party Girl” is all about those innocent days when you believe merely grasping something like The Dewey Decimal System can automatically engender true happiness. It can’t, of course, but I sure remember when I thought it could.