Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In Character: Parker Posey

Attempting to catalogue Parker Posey’s best performances is no easy feat. Posey is responsible for giving American independent cinema clout when it needed it most. Throughout the ‘90s, she was featured in more than 30 films, many of which are remembered as some of this country’s finest indie offerings. And yet, despite working in a business in which age works against females, Posey has remained a standout. From making “freshmen bitches” do air raids in Dazed and Confused to giving Louie C.K. the night of his life on FX last year, there’s no stopping this Queen of the Indies.

Five Essential Roles
Party Girl (1995)
Mary lives for the nights. She spends her days in a fog of hangovers and hazy memories; anxiously waiting until she can swoop into whatever New York City party she finds that night. She drinks, she drugs, she screws, whatever. But after she’s arrested for sponsoring a rave, she realizes that life has caught up with her, and she hasn’t a clue what to do next.

Before Party Girl, Posey proved that she had the chops to deliver pathetic desperation with a unique brand of glee. But with Party Girl, she seriously turned a corner from being the girl you laugh at, to the sad young woman you care for.

Waiting for Guffman (1997)
Libby Mae Brown
Libby Mae Brown may be the most hopelessly sad character to ever appear in a Christopher Guest film. She’s one of Blaine, Missouri’s most content citizens, happy to work at Dairy Queen and live without any real stability. In the film’s most honest moment, we watch as Libby Mae cooks up a pathetic piece of chicken on a shitty little grill in her backyard. She remarks how her recent performance in a local play was well received, but unfortunately went nowhere. Throughout this monologue, there isn’t a shred of despair in her voice. That’s what makes this performance so special – Posey didn’t play Libby Mae as a small town girl looking for a way out, she played her as a small town girl with no idea that an out even exists.

The House of Yes (1997)
Jackie-O Pascal
What a delicious character Jackie-O is. She’s the type of young woman who is spoiled senseless, hideously entitled, and completely fucking bonkers. Pills and therapy clearly aren’t helping Jackie-O with her many issues, the main one being how uncomfortably close she is with her twin brother, Marty.

When Marty brings his new fiancé home for Thanksgiving, Jackie-O does everything in her jealous power to sabotage the relationship. I’m not going to explain the depths of Jackie’s disruption, for it would ruin a sinister and marvelous viewing experience for you. But trust me, if you’re a fan of Parker Posey and have yet to see this film, you have something quite remarkable waiting for you.

Best in Show (2000)
Meg Swan
Meg and Hamilton Swan are two yuppies from Chicago who adore their dog, Beatrice, a tad too much. For example, after Beatrice witnesses Meg and Hamilton having sex, the Swans feel it necessary to take the dog to therapy. Best in Show is full of these hysterically neurotic tendencies from the Swans. In one of the film’s best moments, Meg berates a poor pet store worker as she scrambles to replace Beatrice’s favorite dog toy. When you consider the fact that every line of dialogue Posey dishes out here is 100 percent improvised, it makes you fully appreciate the command of her performance. Had Posey pushed a little more, or held back slightly, Meg could’ve faltered noticeably. But instead, she is played to blissfully irrational perfection.

Scream 3 (2000)
Jennifer Jolie
Jennifer Jolie is the most difficult role Parker Posey has ever played. The command I mentioned of Posey in Best in Show arguably applies even more to Jennifer Jolie. In Scream 3, Posey plays an exaggerated, B-movie version of Gale Weathers in a sleazy horror film based on the events depicted in the first two Scream films. So when the real Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) enters the film, Jennifer handles it with an equal amount of humiliating awe and ego-driven jealousy.

The movie-within-a-movie concept is tricky enough, but casting the “real” people together with the people playing them is even more complicated. And, to be honest, it’s that level of complex meta that needlessly bogs Scream 3 down. But then there’s Parker Posey, completely hamming it up, owning every single moment she’s on screen. She walked such a delicate line of hyperbole in this film that I’m still amazed (and thrilled) she was able to pull it off.

The Best of the Best
Broken English (2007)
Nora Wilder
Nora Wilder is unlike any character Parker Posey has ever played. She’s immature, but past the point of blaming it on youth. She’s unkempt, but not careless. Sad, but never pathetic. She’s a unique woman completely lost in the misfortune of her so-called life. And although Posey has portrayed a number of these women, there’s a specific apathy she gives Nora that I find utterly devastating.

Broken English is about a thirtysomething New Yorker looking for love in all the wrong places. She’s frustrated with her job, bitter that she sleeps with guys on the first date, heartbreakingly content when they never call back, and on and on. She’s a woman drifting, without purpose or care, which Posey brings to life perfectly.

There’s a scene midway through the film worthy of special attention. Having gotten into a fight with her boss, Nora storms out of her office and glides idly down the street, as if she’s hiding from her own ineptitude. M83’s gloriously melancholic track “I Guess I’m Floating,” begins to play over the soundtrack, and suddenly, out of nowhere, a fortuneteller sticks her head out of her door and tells Nora that Nora’s dead father misses her. Posey’s reaction to this news brings tears to my eyes everytime. It’s a perfect harmony of film, music, the randomness of New York City, and, above all, confident acting.

Other Notable Roles
In Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Kicking and Screaming (1995)
The Doom Generation (1995)
The Daytrippers (1997)
Basquiat (1996)
SubUrbia (1996)
Henry Fool (1997)
Clockwatchers (1997)
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
The Misadventures of Margaret (1998)
The Anniversary Party (2001)
Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Personal Velocity: Three Portraits (2002)
Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay (2002)
A Mighty Wind (2003)
Laws of Attraction (2004)
The Oh in Ohio (2006)
Fay Grim (2006)
Superman Returns (2006)
For Your Consideration (2006)
The Return of Jezebel James (2008)
Spring Breakdown (2009)
The Big C (2011)
Louie (2012)
Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012)


  1. I haven't seen much of her work but I loved her in Broken English. There was something in her performance that managed to wow me. It became one of my favorite movies, and I could not describe why but when friends ask me what movies to check out, I always recommend it.

    1. Nice, love hearing your admiration for Broken English. I really do adore that picture, and Posey's performance just kills me. Which I mean as a great, great compliment.

  2. Yay I've been waiting for you to highlight Parker Posey for so long! I would recommend you also check out the episode of Parks and Rec she guest starred in if you enjoy seeing her play complete bitches.

    1. I've been wanting to write a piece on her ever since I started this column. But she has So. Much. stuff out there, so it's taken me a long time to track a lot of it down. Definitely going to check out her work in Parks and Rec.

  3. Parker Posey is great, she is pretty much the queen of indies in my mind. I really enjoyed The Oh in Ohio. I think that might be my favorite of hers.

    1. I love her in The Oh in Ohio. She's priceless in that. Glad to hear you're a fan of her work!

  4. I really like Posey and think she has an interesting style. Even so, I struggled to enjoy Broken English. It's ending is eerily similar to Before Sunset, and her performance didn't work as well as I expected. I'm not sure what I'd put in its place, though. She's one of those actors who always has a welcome presence but doesn't have a bunch of signature roles. I did really like her roles in Henry Fool and Kicking and Screaming, though it's hard to disagree with your picks.

    1. I understand your issue(s) with Broken English. You're right, the ending is a tad familiar and it has a style that can be off putting. Posey's performance in it really holds a special place in my heart. I do love her work in Hal Hartley's films.

  5. I haven't seen Broken English. I'll have to look into it. I was expecting to see Party Girl and The House of Yes. Two others I might have mentioned are a more comedic turn in The OH in the Ohio and her intentionally over the top performance in the spoof Josie and the Pussycats.

    1. Josie and the Pussycats... man, I haven't seen that one in years. But I remember loving her work in it. The Oh in Ohio was very close to making the cut here. As was Clockwatchers, SubUrbia, The Daytrippers, Dazed... it never ends.

  6. Great picks, especially with so many to pick from! Parker has always been able to infused an innocence to her bitchy roles and a daftness to her more "cerebral" characters. I've never been completely sure that it was as much from her acting ability as from her similar to how she actually is--a smart cookie, but don't mess with her!. She was simply born to be in Christopher Guest's films. Always look forward to seeing what she does next!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing that personal story yesterday on Twitter. As you know, I LOVE that stuff. I particularly love the confirmation that, in real life, she's a really cool person. She's just one of those people that you want to hang out with, you know? And you HAVE! So cool.

  7. Oh man, loved her in Guest's flicks and SubURbia but here's the outside of the park one, she was killer in Superman Returns. I really love her in that...pretty sub par flick fun fact.

    1. I adore her in Superman Returns. I love that, even when she's in bigger films, she still manages to attain her natural charm. It's nice that directors don't strip that of her.

  8. Parker Posey was one of my first introduction to indie films and she was one of my crushes as a teen. I still love Party Girl and her performances at that time. There was no one like her at the time. I also love her in Broken English which I think is a very underrated film. Especially from someone who is the daughter one of the great filmmakers ever as well as the fact that she's one of Sofia Coppola's best friends.

    If I was to rate Parker's best performances...

    1. Party Girl
    2. Broken English
    3. Dazed & Confused
    4. Waiting for Guffman
    5. Personal Velocity
    6. Best in Show
    7. subUrbia
    8. Superman Returns (I still like that fucking film. Fuck the haters)
    9. Kicking & Screaming
    10. Josie & the Pussycats.

    1. Love your list, and I love that you appreciate Broken English. What a powerful little film that is. I quite enjoy her in Superman Returns. She and Spacey were my favorite aspects of that film, for sure.

  9. I love Parker Posey. God help me, I do love her so.

    Your thoughts on "Broken English" REALLY make me want to re-watch it and I love what you wrote about Libby Mae. That's good stuff. "Kicking & Screaming" has always been a personal favorite, but that's partially because I have a deep connection to that whole film.

    I don't know. I just love 'em all. All the Posey performances. She's the best.

    1. Hell yeah man, how can you NOT love her? Kicking & Screaming grows on me everytime I watch it. It's so precise in what it's doing. It really speaks to a time and place perfectly. Sounds like it's time for you rewatch Broken English and me to rewatch Kicking & Screaming. Deal?

  10. I attempted to give my daughter the middle name of Parker and used this fine actress as evidence of how commanding yet ultimately fun it could be.

    The name was hit, but not so popular to win over the masses. Kind of like Posey herself.

    Great job, AW.

    1. Thanks man! Dude, Parker is a great name, especially a middle name. You would've had my vote!

  11. I need to check out more of her work. Right now, I'd probably list The House of Yes as her best performance, but I haven't seen Broken English, Waiting for Guffman or Party Girl yet.

    1. I think you'd really appreciate Broken English. Seems like something you'd hold in high esteem. Still, she's excellent in The House of Yes.

  12. Loved her performance in the film adaptation of Dean Koontz's first Frankenstein novel. Her character exhibited a tough exterior which you just knew protected a softer, more human side. John V. Karavitis

    1. I haven't seen that! Going to check it out asap. Thanks!

  13. Recently, I've reflected upon the one-two punch she had back in 2000 with Best In Show and Scream 3. Thinking about the year she had has me thinking "Cinema could use more Parker Posey."

    I read a quote of hers where she said that she doesn't get much mainstream work because she's considered "too indie." A bit of a shame really.

    1. Definitely a shame, because she can do anything. I love all her work, in big films or small. Those two roles in 2000 speak so well to her versatility. They're so different!