Parker Posey is a sort of NYC indie institution; in fact, she was dubbed "Queen of the Indies" in 1997 by Time, which was no small feat for a then-28-year-old. Although she made an impression with smaller parts in movies like Dazed and Confused, her lead role as Mary in 1995's Party Girl was her breakthrough. One might even argue -- or daydream -- that her role as Mary, a downtown girl who has a giant loft, an excellent wardrobe, and connections to anyone who's who in town -- could be confused with Posey herself. In any case, it's the first movie Posey carries on her own shoulders, and it's an adorable little movie and captures a corner of New York that I never got a chance to know and that's long gone by now.
Since then, Posey has become the poster girl for type of It Girl -- the kind who shows up at the trendiest parties, whose every fashion move is scrutinized by bloggers or whose love of ashtanga yoga is written about in People.
But Posey's more than a party fixture, and she has the extensive body of work to prove it. She's often cast as the "quirky" girl, but her roles in the Christopher Guest ensemble movies like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show show off her theatrical sensibility, as well as her comic timing. (Her freakout about her spoiled Weimeraner's lost toy is hilarious. Watch it here.) And while she's also great in the Hal Hartley film Henry Fool, she's not the star. (The less said about its sequel, which she does star in, Fay Grim, the better.)
When I had to choose which of her roles so far was my favorite, it was a toss-up between House of Yes and Broken English.
House of Yes is a movie about a family at Thanksgiving that's welcoming home their son Marty (Josh Hamilton) and his surprise fiancée (Tori Spelling) back from New York, but its similarities to any other holiday family romp ends there. When their mother tells Marty's fiancée Lesly that his twin Jackie was born with Marty's penis in her hand, you just know that things are not going to end well. Posey stars as Jackie, or "Jackie-O" after the former First Lady; her nickname is from a long-ago Halloween costume of hers that led to a strange game with Marty where he plays JFK being assassinated and she plays his distraught wife.
Wendy MacLeod's play, which was adapted for the screen by director Mark Waters, is dark and claustrophobic, much like the relationship between Jackie-O and Marty themselves. Jackie-O, who spent some time in the recent past in an institution, is off her meds and none too pleased that her twin is marrying anyone, much less a waitress at a donut restaurant. Posey flips between an ice queen full of cutting lines like, "Were you poor? Did you eat chicken pot pie?" and a child who seeks Marty's approval, assuring him that she's "all better now." The two twins have their own language that leaves everyone else out of the loop, but this is a far stranger take on the twin trope than most other works are willing to risk. It's a twisted, sad, and strange film that's hard to shake off once you've seen it, and Posey's performance is the centerpiece.
Broken English, however, struck a nerve that perhaps says more about me as the viewer than the film itself. It's the rawest, most honest portrayal I've seen in the movies about being an unmarried thirtysomething woman in New York. Written and directed by Zoe R. Cassavetes,Broken English was shot in high-definition with a Viper digital camera. It doesn't present a polished, gleaming end product; let's say that for the most part, Posey is not filmed in the most flattering way. As Nora Wilder, her mouth is usually turned down and depressed, worn by "duty dating" and a job she hates at a boutique hotel and a newly married best friend (Drea de Matteo) and a mother who asks her what she's doing with her expensive liberal arts education. (Nora's mom is played by Cassavetes' own mother, Gena Rowlands.) Nora's skin doesn't look perfect. She smokes while she does yoga. She sleeps with the wrong people; she gets fixed up on dates that end badly.
Then Nora meets the handsome young Julien (Melvil Poupaud) at a party just as she's leaving, and he convinces her to stay. She tells doesn't want any trouble. "But I am no trouble!" he protests. Nora's unable to just enjoy their short affair, and when he returns to Paris, she is faced with the question of how much to wants to risk for a near-stranger. How much does it cost to throw your complacency and vulnerability and fears to the wind? Is the payoff worth the price?
This is not to say that Broken English is perfect. There are missteps in the script, and at times it looks a little too flat. It's not an original story, but it's a personal story, and it's one that I sense that its makers can relate to. To me, this is Posey's bravest performance. She's not the indie It Girl any more. She's a woman. And this is sometimes what it's like to be a woman.
(By the way, Spring Breakdown is frigging hilarious.)