“Party Girl” aspires to be cinematic champagne but comes out tasting more like sparkling cider. This trifle about a dizzy downtown New York scenester who gets a grip on her life is energized by several attractive characters and enough youthful pep to put it over as an upbeat diversion for teens and twentysomethings, though it has no more substance than bubblegum music. Lightweight item will boost the careers of its star and director while likely posting modest theatrical results.
Idea here looks to have been to cross “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with “Desperately Seeking Susan” to spin a little yarn about how a flighty, directionless girl, who would have thrived in the party-on ’80s, assumes responsibility for herself in the more prosaic ’90s. First-time helmer Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s agreeable intentions and eager-to-please attitude win her considerable credit but, in the end, aren’t enough to compensate for lack of genuine wit and style.
When first glimpsed, 23-year-old Mary (Parker Posey) is dragged away by the cops for throwing an illegal rent party and selling booze at her Chinatown loft. Parentless, she is forced to turn to her godmother, Judy (Sasha von Scherler), a no-nonsense type who runs a library.
Although clerking in this hushed, bookish environment seems like a one-way ticket to Squaresville, the broke Mary has no alternative but to take the job, and her condescension gives way to a love affair with the Dewey Decimal System.
Downtown, she still hangs with her loose coterie of friends, including Leo, an aspiring deejay who gets a job spinning for Rene, the alcoholic owner of a popular club, and a flamboyant gay clothes designer.
Mary slowly takes a fancy to Mustafa, an attractive and smart young Lebanese fellow who runs a neighborhood falafel stand. Her ditziness and superficiality initially give him pause despite his desire, but the two eventually hook up in the library on a rainy night in a messy manner that imperils Mary’s career chances.
Such a slight story needs plenty of style and elan to put it over, and von Scherler Mayer gets by up to a point by virtue of the fashionably grungy settings, bouncy soundtrack, numerous party scenes peopled by sexy bodies and the boundless enthusiasm of her leading lady. But ultimately, pic reveals a disappointingly mainstream sensibility, both visually and attitudinally.
Then there’s the matter of Posey, who as Mary is center-screen virtually at all times. Sharp-featured, vaguely reminiscent of Geraldine Chaplin and aerobicized to a fare-thee-well, Parker will seem endlessly charming and endearing to some and over-the-top to others. She’s always “on,” chattering incessantly, flaunting style when there’s little substance to back it up, showing vulnerability when she needs to and always ensuring that she’s the center of attention.
Omar Townsend, who resembles a young Horst Buchholz, is appealing in his intelligence and restraint as Mustafa. Von Scherler proves a bit one-note but effective nonetheless as Mary’s strict boss,.
For what it is, film feels somewhat overlong, losing steam in the final half-hour. Important technical contributions come in the form of ever-changing costumes and decor.