As seminal 90s cult movie Party Girl receives a 4K restoration, Parker Posey reflects on her first starring role and nostalgia for the New York City of the past.
Few actresses have defined the vibrancy of the ’90s indie film scene quite like Parker Posey. In cult classics of the decade like Dazed and Confused, Kicking and Screaming, The Daytrippers, and The House of Yes, to name just a few, Posey commands the screen with charisma and humor.
She’s an actress who always brings her own brand of playful energy to every role, and has won a devoted following for her admirable ability to always commit to the bit, whether she’s starring in a Christopher Guest improv mockumentary or popping up in a big budget release or TV show. Posey’s most recent role, in Beau Is Afraid, finds her seducing Joaquin Phoenix with a manic spark that makes her brief scene one of the film’s most memorable — which is no easy feat considering that Ari Aster’s latest horror story runs nearly three hours and features all kinds of bizarre twists.
Going back to Posey’s first starring role, in Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s 1995 comedy Party Girl, you can truly see a star being born. Posey plays Mary, a party girl (of course) who reluctantly becomes a librarian in order to repay her aunt for bailing her out after she’s arrested for throwing an illegal rave (in true 1995 fashion), only to ultimately discover that she actually loves the work.
Party Girl has recently gotten a 4K restoration and rerelease, and with ’90s nostalgia in full swing, and public libraries and queer communities (two things the film depicts with love and nuance) unfortunately under attack, it’s taken on a new potency. Watching Party Girl today, it’s a time capsule of a New York City filled with glitter, platform shoes, and house music, and in the middle of it all is Posey — a fashionable, impish presence who makes working in a public library feel like a glamorous fairytale. We spoke to the actress about the movie’s legacy, the magic of ’90s New York, and the joy of watching screwball comedy heroines.
Party Girl really embodies the spirit of ’90s New York City. What’s your take on all the ’90s nostalgia happening now? Do you feel nostalgic for the era?
When I think of ’90s nostalgia I think of my own nostalgia in the ’90s for the ’70s. And then I think of ’70s nostalgia which was ’30s and ’40s. We had this screwball comedy and for me, I thought “This is going to come back in style,” and it did for a little bit — the witty woman with her repartee and the men who love her, who she runs away from and runs back to.
In the ’90s, I remember running outside and going to the deli in my slippers and a slip, and you could just run outside. It was flirty and madcap. There was this joy and this bounce. In the ’90s there were more people on the sidewalks, and working on indie movies and living in a rent-controlled apartment, there was that freedom and spontaneity to walk around and go to flea markets and bookstores. There was that kind of grunginess, and you’d run into people you knew just by walking around.
I’m nostalgic for how to really meet people. It’s so different now. I think it’s more trepidatious and careful. It was wild then and no one was taking pictures. You could go out and have fun and do pratfalls on the dance floor and just be stupid. That flirtation and energy felt really great. New York has those stages where it feels like a bad boyfriend and you’re not sure if you should leave or not, but the energy of people that I still encounter makes the City what it is and I love that very much.
I feel like for 20 years I’ve been really nostalgic and living in a bubble and I’m grieving a bit over the time. But I’m also wondering if now there’s a place for me to do something new, like direct a play, perhaps. I love theater and seeing the whole picture. I’m just an artist and I put things out there and see what comes back and if it doesn’t feel warm and cozy, bye-bye. I know there are a lot of fresh writers who haven’t been discovered and I would really like to have that kind of collaboration.
What has it been like revisiting Party Girl almost 30 years after it was released?
Going to the premiere of the Party Girl rerelease, I was so emotional. It was so long ago and that was such a time in New York. I didn’t even know if I would be able to do the Q&A after, because I just got so nostalgic.
There was magic and it’s still a magical city. I was listening to the soundtrack before going to the premiere and I was so touched by it. She’s gonna live her life, you know? There’s this simplicity. The songs had such optimism about city life and holding onto that life and that reinvention.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Mary. Was the part written with you in mind?
It wasn’t written for me specifically. But I’ve gotten that a lot about this movie because I made such strong choices. Daisy, the director, and Harry Birckmayer, the co-writer, wrote it as a screwball comedy. I was fresh out of SUNY Purchase drama school and mostly doing plays so I had that physical brain that you need for theater.
When I was young I made some bold choices that required stepping up to the material and I was inspired by the sassy women in old movies. I was a Rosalind Russell fan since I was a kid, and loved Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck. They were so funny, and what I loved about it was that they all got along, and they knew they were ridiculous.
With Mary, we knew there needed to be something kind of daffy about her, channeling the physicality of these ladies and how they’d walk in a room, how they’d shimmy their shoulders a bit. I started out as a dancer, so I started with that physicality of it. And me and my friends were all going out so we had all these personal jokes and this way of talking and vamping. That kind of daffiness is really fun to play.
In the screwball genre in the gilded class, women often did that — they were smart actors playing dumb. I just keep thinking “daffy” and I don’t even know exactly what that means — but it’s just kind of empty but playful, with some screws missing. It’s a magical thinker who’s in her own world and is living life by instinct and heart and not really questioning things.
That kind of freedom in those movies, like 20th Century, which I love, with Carole Lombard and John Barrymore — they’re just raging at each other and it’s so fun. It’s not mean and it’s very clever and real. And the men were idiots around these women, and they played with them and when they got mad at each other you knew the actors were having fun. It’s so sexy and alive.
All the costumes in Party Girl are so fabulous. Given the low budget, did you wear any of your own clothes? What was the process of costuming the movie like?
I did use some of my own clothes. I had one suit I wore in the library that was from the ’70s — it had beige brocade and I wore platform shoes with it. There was that ’90s/’70s/’40s lineage, so we looked at old movies and then I was putting flowers in my hair and popping that ’40s look mixed with ’70s. And there was no grunge in the movie. Everything was very colorful and poppy. A lot of it was borrowed, like Todd Oldham gave us studded shorts that we returned immediately after, and it was a big deal to buy that bright red Vivienne Westwood bodice top I wore in the beginning.
The costuming was a real collaboration and it was really, really fun. There was this intimacy, like, “Come over to my apartment, look at all these vintage items I have.” We had a lot of favors on that movie, and people wanted to support New York in that way. My grandmother, who was like a ’40s movie star, she really dressed up and she made her own clothes. She’d copy the clothes she saw in Neiman Marcus and put her high-heeled boots on and light a cigarette and look like she just stepped out of a TV show — and she had nowhere to go. I really called on her during that.
Do you get a lot of librarians telling you how much they love Party Girl?
I do. It’s a wild thing. I’m not saying I get five librarians a day, but when I’m in the City walking about, Party Girl has lately seemed to be in the air. It’s women of all ages. God, there’s such a gap of material for women. And this movie is all about a woman who likes to dress up and socialize and wear lipstick and read and she’s funny and likes to dance and she’s smart.
We made that movie for those kids who want to dance in front of the TV and don’t feel like they belong and want to leave their town and move to New York to live their lives. It was made with such a great spirit. I’m really happy it’s had such a resurgence. It’s so sweet.
Published 6 Jun 2023
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