1 Hr., 36 Mins.
Kicking and Screaming / Party Girl January 15, 2019
Daisy von Scherler
Sasha von Scherler
1 Hr., 30 Mins.
among other things. This can’t last. Having to pay her godmother back for bailing her out, she realizes that she will have to put a lid on her hedonism in favor of something more straight-edged. In her mind, the solution is trying to get a job at the nearby library, where the godmom, a no-nonsense woman named Judy (Sasha von Scherler), is the lady in charge. It takes some pushing. Mary has no real job experience; her mother was allegedly maladroit. But Judy, after letting out a protracted sigh, decides to hire Mary on as a clerk, thinking maybe she’s actually interested in amending her life.
The job proves itself illuminating. Mary becomes obsessed with the Dewey Decimal System — which leads her, humorously, to reorganize her DJ roommate’s (Guillermo Diaz) vinyl collection, which first pisses him off, then changes his life — and starts romancing a Lebanese immigrant whom she thinks she could help get a teaching gig, in part due to her newfound literary expertise.
Party Girl never quite works outside the boundaries of the classic MTV-esque, style and sensibility-first rom-com. Mayer and Posey at least provide us with a spunky, Holly Golightly-like character, who, to boot, ambles around in fun-to-look-at, thrift store-chic outfits we imagine Chloë Sevigny wearing when she caught Jay McInerney’s eye in the early-1990s. But the romantic-comedy plot is undercooked, and the “I can be better!” narrative device is vexatious. (Though I love when, at the end of the film, after scheduling a meeting with Judy to try to keep her job, Mary shows up in an uncharacteristic pantsuit and the kind of dapper but gratuitous glasses as worn by Chris Hemsworth in 2016’s Ghostbusters.) To add insult to injury, there are galling instances of cultural appropriation and homophobia, which go hand in hand. At a questionably Middle-Eastern-themed party, for instance, Mary reminds a character to not be “such a fag!” as constantly as Charli XCX says “unlock it” in “Unlock It” — a duo that has certainly not aged well. Because“Party Girl is saddled with an economic length and an of-course superlative Posey performance, fans of the actress will treat the movie like catnip. It’s maybe not for the hidden gem-seeking crowd, though.
Kicking and Screaming: A-
Party Girl: C
osey starred in five movies in 1995; among them was Kicking and Screaming. Another, Party Girl, written and directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer, is especially notable for other reasons. It was the first movie to premiere on the internet (really!), and was the first time Posey led a feature-length. In the movie, she is Mary, an aimless 23-year-old whose hard-partying lifestyle must come to a temporary end after she is arrested. So far, she’s made a living off throwing illegal raves, supplying alcohol to minors,
in Show (2000), Christopher Guest’s mockumentary about dog-show competitors. But her character, a braces-faced WASP with an unnervingly perfect bob, is among its most memorable. Even in movies that don’t seem to know where they’re going — from 2000’s unnecessary slasher sequel Scream 3 to 2001’s cluttered but lovable music-industry satire Josie and the Pussycats — she might be considered the only consistent feature.
Because of her prolific work in independent cinema in the 1990s, Posey was christened, in the decade's twilight, the “Queen of the Indies.” Yet the name, though certainly impressive, has always bothered me: it sells Posey a bit short. It suggests, truthfully, that her presence was partially defining in the indie scene of her formative acting years. But it doesn’t address that Posey is a singular, straightforwardly exceptional performer, regardless of budget and distribution style. She's remarkably sincere, but adding edges are her vocal fry and physicality — respectively deadpan and loose — which suggest that she’s somehow both self-aware and as earnest as a theater kid.
In 1995’s Kicking and Screaming, the directorial debut of Noah Baumbach, Posey plays a minor part. Though the role requires her to be the rarely seen girlfriend of one of the film’s primaries, she is so distinctive in the moments in which she appears that all you want to do for most of the feature is see her character, Miami, more often. Her performance here speaks to exactly what makes her so persistent. The movie’s best scenes — which is technically one split in two — find Miami telling her boyfriend, Skippy (Jason Wiles), that she has cheated on him, that she is fed up with him, and that she wants him to get out of her room. Each declaration is delivered by Posey with such wit and originality that I was inspired to rewind the scene a handful of times, just to relive how first-rate the actress is in it.
In the scene, she sits at her desk, clad in a checkered red pajamas, clutching a cigarette while chewing gum. (Like the Dazed and Confused character!) Skippy, who looks like River Phoenix crossed with an Abercrombie & Fitch model, is sprawled across from her on the bed. “Can we just admit some lies that we may have told each other?” Miami asks, just as Skippy’s taking a photo of her. He doesn’t really agree to this, but the question was rhetorical, so who cares? She plays with her long brown hair for a couple of beats, then realizes that the thing she's about to share is a bummer to say aloud. She has Skippy throw her a sharpie; then, in her notebook, she scrawls “I CHEATED ON YOU." She shows it to her lover unceremoniously. Straightaway, she realizes she forgot to cushion the blow. So she adds a sad-face cartoon, then holds the page up as if she were Vanna White. Her face is fixed in an almost sarcastic grimace.
Moments later, she rids herself of her feigned compassion and lets loose a spectacular jeremiad. She complains about Skippy’s lack of drive, his almost incestuously close relationships with his comparably unfocused group of friends, and his entire look (“Your hair drives me crazy,” she moans), all the while waving around a cigarette she, with Gloria Swanson’s same sense of purpose, lit with the previous one. Upon commanding Skippy get out, though, he undercuts her through mimicry, which makes her laugh.
Posey's idiosyncrasy is complementary to the film at large. Akin to the way her individualism spices up this type of scene we’ve seen before, Kicking and Screaming is built on an old story but tells it with insight and intelligence. It is about a group of friends who have just graduated college — Grover (Josh Hamilton), Otis (Carlos Jacott), Max (Chris Eigeman), and Skippy — and the ennui that defines their lives in the year following. Grover, who wants to be a novelist, cannot find a job, and is left heartbroken after his girlfriend, Jane (Olivia d’Abo), accepts a fellowship in Prague. Otis, a clumsy social nebbish, cannot decide whether he wants to accept a job in Milwaukee. (Early in the movie, he and his friends decide that moving to that city is a verifiable “worst case scenario.”) Max realizes that his studying the arts was a mistake, and troublingly begins “dating” a teenager to cope with his disaffections. Skippy can barely get it together at all.
Part of me wants to reject Kicking and Screaming, since all the characters encompassing the ensemble are white, come from well-off families, and went to an Ivy League. But Baumbach, like the upper class-mocking writer-director Whit Stillman, who would put out a spiritually similar movie about post-grad life, The Last Days of Disco, three years later, seems aware that the entitlement and privilege only make the tragicomedy of it all funnier. Most of the exhibited misfortunes come with an eye-roll. Comprehensively loving these characters, unless they’re named after the most populous city in Florida, isn’t possible. But because most of us know exactly what they’re feeling — terror when thinking about the future; nervousness when any sort of long-term job offer comes up — the hint of compassion goes a long way. So do Baumbach’s scene-setting and dialogue. It's as if the actors had known each other previously, and were comfortable improvising. (Word on the street says that ad-libbing was key to the film to begin with.) I alternately pitied and understood these people — perhaps the point.
arker Posey is the kind of actress who can make even the smallest of a role indelible. When looking back on Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater’s whirly last-day-of-high-school comedy from 1993, I do not immediately think of the young men who serve as the film’s main characters. Instead I think of the clique of girls — which also includes a young Joey Lauren Adams — that the cigarette-smoking, gum-smacking Posey leads, with breathtaking cool. She is one of many freakishly devoted pet owners in Best