Movie stars almost have to be in love with themselves — that’s how they get us to fall in love with them — and Parker Posey, the 26-year-old star of Party Girl, has this lustrous self-regard to a ticklish degree. With her clear eyes and beautiful big jaw, Posey resembles the young Geraldine Chaplin, and you may be tempted, at first, to look right past her wholesome alabaster prettiness. But then you catch the narcissistic glint in those eyes; she’s like a sexy pony who’s just had a dirty thought. Suddenly, she’s irresistible.
Party Girl, a rambunctious cartoon of a movie, creates a small but zesty inside portrait of a time-honored New York scene-maker: the haughty young queen of the demimonde, flitting from party to party, from dance club to dance club, gliding through the champagne night on her looks, her clothes, her kitschy downtown élan. Posey’s Mary just wants to have fun, but her brand of fun depends on never quite making a human connection to her fellow denizens of partyville. (If they connected in that way, they couldn’t play at being ”fabulous.”) Mary has almost no money, but her lifestyle depends on acting as if she did. She steals designer clothes from the closets of party hosts, and she carries herself with a campy-aristocratic hauteur meant to signify her ”worth” as a woman. As embodied by Posey (and I mean embodied — her white-girl dance moves are as exuberant as her acting), Mary is a spiritual descendant of Holly Golightly, and there’s an echo, as well, of Edie Sedgwick, the late Andy Warhol superstar who moved the American-princess-on-a-bender mythology into the drug-rock era.
In the course of Party Girl, Mary becomes more and more desperate, until she is finally knocked down by her own selfishness. Yet the director, Daisy von Scherler Mayer (it’s her first film), never lets us forget that Mary’s prancing night-world extravagance isn’t simply a fad she has to outgrow; it’s also a playful form of feminine grace. Party Girl moves to its own silly-surreal logic. Mary gets a crush on an earnest falafel vendor (Omar Townsend), and she starts to moonlight as a library clerk, becoming religiously obsessed with the Dewey decimal system. The film knows how absurd this is, yet its triumph is that, by the end, we’re actually rooting for Mary to see the library as her salvation. We want her to have her fun and survive it, too. B+