1995 independent film starring Parker Posey and directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer. The film chronicles a young woman's transformation from shiftless party girl to responsible career-focused adult.
Detailed Summary: (contains spoilers)
The film opens in Mary's New York City apartment, where there is presumably a party going on. A drag queen is frantically looking for her earring in the hallway. As the camera slowly climbs the stairs, we see many colorfully-dressed club kids, finally coming to Mary, the protagonist. An unconventionally attractive brunette, she is dressed in a pair of sequined shorts and a red bustier, waving money in her hands to the beat of the dance music playing. She gratefully accepts a joint handed to her, then notices a man who hasn't paid the cover charge and tells him to give her five pesos. The man turns out to be a cop, and the party is shut down. Oblivious to the fact that Mary is being arrested, her flamboyantly gay best friend Derrick appears and bemoans the fact that he can't locate 'Karl', a man he had a one night stand with after meeting him at a party. Mary's boyfriend, Nigel, then passes by, also seemingly unaware that she's being arrested. He tells her he is being deported. As Mary is being led out by the police, the DJ, Leo, wants to be paid; however, Mary has less than half of what she owes him. He tells her that if she will let him stay at her place she can pay him later. She gives him the keys and is handcuffed and brought to the police station, where she is booked for illegally operating a social club and drug possession. Since she has no family (both parents are out of the picture) she calls her godmother Judy, to bail her out.
The next morning, dressed in a red velvet miniskirt, leopard-print jacket and purple platform shoes, Mary visits the library where Judy works as head librarian. On her way there she stops at a street vendor's cart to buy falafel. He is angry that the vendor across from him has more customers, but soon forgets as he and Mary begin to make idle small talk. After spending a few minutes talking to the vendor, she makes her way to the library. In an incredible display of an unwarranted sense of entitlement, Mary reminds Judy of the "loan" that they had discussed the previous night. When Judy displays reluctance to simply dole out money to her and asks if she plans to get a job, Mary becomes indignant at the perceived slight of questioning her party-obsessed lifestyle. When Judy suggests waitressing, Mary angrily responds that she is "not a waitress." This is a pivotal scene: it showcases Mary's irresponsible assumption that others should take care of her without question. As Judy and Mary are talking, an angry patron accosts Judy and complains that the books in the political science section are out of sequence. Judy responds that she is understaffed because of budget cuts. As the patron storms off, Judy makes the offhand remark that a girl like Mary wouldn't be responsible enough to work in the library, which upsets Mary: "Judy, you're my only family, and you're ashamed of me." Judy contends that she is not, and hires Mary as a library clerk to prove it. She then assigns another clerk, Wanda, to train her. As Wanda asks her if she is familiar with the Dewey Decimal system, the scene cuts to a mock mug shot of Mary, holding a card that reads "New York Public Library."
Later, Mary is in her apartment with Derrick and Leo, getting ready to go out. Leo, who by now has moved in, is telling Derrick and Mary about a recurring dream he has in which he becomes paralyzed with fear while DJing. The dialogue that occurs between Mary and Derrick, consisting of Gaultier jackets and other fashion-related chatter, while utterly ignoring Leo's attempt to have a real discussion about a problem of his, highlights both Mary and Derrick's inconsiderate and shallow natures. Mary unhappily tells them about her new job and describes it as "cell block H meets 4-H Club." Leo asks her to give Rene, the owner of a club Mary frequents, a mix tape of him spinning. Derek reiterates the fact that he cannot find Karl.
At Rene's club, Mary and Leo are able to get in right away because her boyfriend, Nigel, is the bouncer. Leo remembers Nigel as the one he "met in the shower," which doesn't please Mary, as it apparently means he "pissed in the shower again" at one of Mary's parties; she insists that his behavior lowers her worth and breaks up with him. Once inside, Leo is extremely nervous about meeting Rene. Mary is giving him advice when she abruptly gets up to engage in what I assumed to be the club kid's version of an interpretive dance with someone named Natasha. Fittingly, in the dance she plays a bored dummy manipulated by Natasha, a situation strikingly similar to her current one in life, where she mindlessly devotes her time to keeping herself entertained.
The next morning, she is hungover and finding it difficult to concentrate at the library. She stops by the falafel vendor she'd met before, and greets him in Lebanese (he had told her he was Lebanese when they met). He introduces himself as Mustafa and tells her he was a teacher in Lebanon, but can't teach in the United States because his English isn't good enough. Mustafa describes his life in America as "like Sisyphus," something Mary predictably is not familiar with. He asks her a question in Lebanese and tells her to answer yes, which she does; she had agreed to have dinner with him.
In the next scene, we see Mary and Derrick at yet another party, where they retreat to an empty bedroom ostensibly because the party is not entertaining enough. Mary opens the closet door to look at the person's clothes: "Adolfo, Adolfo, Adolfo...there's got to be a Pucci in here somewhere." She tunes Derrick out as he begins to talk about finding Karl again, which is apparently the single aspiration in his life. When he tells her that the two of them "connected that night...From the essence, from the ancient center of our beings," she cynically replies, "The two of you were on Ecstacy. It dries out your spinal fluid," as she nonchalantly takes a gold bodysuit and puts it under her jacket. Derrick becomes alarmed as she tells him to watch the door: "Would you hurry up? I don't want to be caught shoplifting," he says insistently. Mary anal-retentively points out that they aren't in a shop; apparently, stealing from someone who had the nerve to throw a boring party is justified. She finds a classic red boucle Chanel jacket and they leave.
The next day, Judy reprimands Mary for pointing a patron in the wrong direction. Upset at the condescending way Judy corrected her, she refuses an invitation to go out to dinner with her and the rest of the library staff. As Judy walks away, Wanda brings Mary a stack of books to code; as it turns out, about fifty copies of The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. After she leaves work, she is dancing around her apartment, fantasizing about Mustafa. Her fantasy is interrupted when Leo asks her if she's seen one of his records and the oven timer goes off. She starts to tell Leo what she plans to do when she has her own bakery, then recoils in despair as she sees that her creation is charred beyond recognition: "I can't cook, I can't do anything! I'm gonna die in a subway somewhere with nothing!" She laments the fact that she's going to be twenty-four soon, and hasn't yet done anything with her life. Mary tells Leo about the myth of Sisyphus, as she has begun to understand its relevance.
Leo goes to Rene's club the next morning to discuss DJing for her club. She tells him his tape "doesn't suck," and agrees to let him try out that evening, on the condition that he is never to play anything written or produced by Teddy Rogers. Leo heads to the library to tell Mary his good news, where Judy interrupts their conversation to tell Mary that she's mis-coded a book - she's aghast that Mary has not yet absorbed the Dewey Decimal system: "A trained monkey learned the system on PBS in a matter of hours!" After getting quite drunk alone in a bar, Mary breaks into the library and spends the entire night learning the system. Unfortunately, she forgets that she had promised to meet Mustafa and to go with Leo to Rene's club to see him spin. At the club, Leo's worst fear of freezing is realized, but he is spared Rene's wrath when a beautiful silver-clad dancer distracts the crowd while he gets everything back on track. As the night winds down, Leo finds himself attracted to the dancer, whose name is Venus.
The next morning, Mary still hasn't left the library, and lashes out at a patron hysterically for randomly shelving a book. She tries to tell Judy about her "wild night" in the library, but Judy cuts her off, assuming she is referring to partying. She tries to talk to Mustafa, who is angry that she blew him off.
Leo has apparently pleased Rene: he's now working at her club. Venus brings in a single for him to play, and he is so enamored with her that he neglects to notice that the record is produced by Teddy Rogers. Mary is sitting next to Rene, fretting over Mustafa to Nigel when Rene realizes what Leo is playing and accosts him with a broken beer bottle. He quickly gets rid of the record.
Mary is now the model library clerk, working at the reference desk with her co-workers and going above and beyond to help patrons. The only problem now is that Mary has become so good at shelving Judy won't let her do anything else, which Mary confronts her with. After her confrontation with Judy, she bumps into Rene, who assumes that Mary is at the library for an AA meeting like she is.
Mary tries to reconnect with Mustafa by visiting him every day to buy falafel, even though he won't speak to her. Since the stand across the street is more popular, he cannot refuse her business. Leo comes home one evening to find his entire record collection catalogued using the Dewey Decimal system, which upsets him because he doesn't know where anything is. After Mary explains it to him, though, he sees that it's beneficial. One night while Mary is working alone at the library, Mustafa comes in to get information on how to become a teacher, not knowing she works there. One thing leads to another and they end up having sex in the library. She forgets to close the windows, however, and many of the books are ruined. Judy sees this and the condom wrapper in the trash the next morning and fires Mary. After she gets fired, Mary arrives home to find an eviction notice on the door of her apartment. She sells all her clothes, including the Gaultier jacket, in order to pay her rent.
Later, Mary tells Mustafa that Judy was right to fire her: "Keith Richards would make a better librarian than me." She's begun to realize how devoid of substance and direction her life really is. Mustafa asks her to list the things she's good at so he can help her figure out what to do, and she gives him a laundry list that includes throwing parties, applying makeup and lying. She then looks around the abandoned warehouse they're currently in and decides it would be a great place for a party, totally reverting to her old mindset. At the party, Mustafa becomes angry with the way Mary is treating the people who are helping her out with the party duties. After engaging in some drunken antics, Nigel takes her home, then tries to assault her. After fighting him off, she climbs the stairs to her apartment, hallucinating that books are cascading down around her. The next morning, she wakes up and marches into the library, determined to get her job back. Judy agrees to meet at her place at 8:00 PM.
Unbeknownst to Mary, her friends are preparing to throw her a surprise birthday party at the same time.
In order to plan for her future, Mary meets up with her co-workers to discuss going to school for a career in library science. She arrives home primly attired in a black power suit and glasses, her hair up in a bun. She is horrified to learn that a surprise party was planned and chaos ensues: Mary tries to hurriedly get everyone out; Rene, who now assumes Mary is an alcoholic after running into her the one day at the library, thinks she's having "a slip"; and Derek, despite being ecstatic at reuniting with Kurt (who is actually Karl), yells at her for the way she's dressed and tells her to "put on something more festive." Leo informs Derrick that she can't because she sold all her clothes, a true sign that she is maturing and finally sees that there's more to life than parties and fashion. Infuriated, Derrick asks her why she sold her clothes, and she says to pay her rent. He keeps repeating the question, when Rene jumps in with, "Because she's an alcoholic!" Mary exclaims that she is not an alcoholic, and of course this is the exact moment Judy arrives.
Mary tells Judy she wants her job back, but before Judy can reply, a cop shows up. The cop is actually a stripper who begins to grind on Mary, but Mary handcuffs him to a nearby pole so she can talk to Judy without his distracting dancing. Mary tells Judy she wants a career in library science, but Judy isn't buying it. Leo protests, explaining how Mary catalogued his collection of over 2,000 records according to the Dewey Decimal system. Judy is adamant about not rehiring Mary: when Leo asks why, Judy tells the crowd that Mary had sex in the library. The stripper, still chained to the pole, chimes in and asks what part of the library. Mustafa enters and tells them it was the romance language section, and Mary rushes over to him. Mustafa tells Judy all the things Mary did to help him research becoming a teacher, and Judy is impressed with how thorough a job Mary has done. She asks her if a career in the library is what she really wants, but Mary is certain. She has finally found something she can commit her life to.
Parker Posey - Mary
Anthony DeSando - Derrick
Guillermo Díaz - Leo
Donna Mitchell - Rene
Liev Schreiber - Nigel
Omar Townsend - Mustafa
Sasha von Scherler - Judy Lindendorf
Lum Chang Pang - Policeman
Elizabeth Beer - Hi-Tech Falafel Vendor
Richard Topol - Hannah Buff
C. Francis Blackchild - Wanda
John Ventimiglia - Tough Guy (as Johnny Ventimiglia)
Dwight Ewell - He-He-Hello Trio
Teresa Lebron - He-He-Hello Trio
Wendell Daughtery - He-He-Hello Trio
Timothy Duperron - The It Twins
Robert Sorce - The It Twins
Natasha Twist - Herself
Irma St. Paule - Mumbling Library Patron
Nicole Bobbitt - Venus
Marion Rosenfeld - Maid Marion
Elisa Burchett - Basscut
Heinrich Zwahlen - Basscut
Adam Siegel - Sheepish Library Patron
L.B. Williams - Howard
Non Rosas - Go Go Boy
Eduardo Cunones - Go Go Boy
Beth Koules - Identical Twin Enthusiast
Becky Mode - Ann
J.J. Clark - Construction Worker
Margaret Hall - Consignment shop owner
Raymond Moy - Mr. Lu
DJ Jazzy Nice - Paci
Sabah Shayan - Belly Dancer
Simon Verhoeven - Kurt
Anthony Jones - Stripper
Annie Edgerton - Featured Party Guest (uncredited)
The Lady Bunny - Guest on Stairs (uncredited)
The music in the film is a blend of many different kinds of club music: house, techno, trance, hip hop, and some Middle Eastern music. The play list for the official soundtrack is:
Mama Told Me Not To Come - The Wolfgang Press
Beautiful - Tom Tom Club
You Don't Love Me - Dawn Penn
Les Ailes - Khaled
I'll Keep Coming Back - Chanelle
Big Apple Boogaloo - Brooklyn Funk Essentials
Anyone Could Happen To Me - Nation Of Abel
Peter Piper - Run-DMC
To Be Loved - Basscut
Never Take Your Place - Mr. Fingers
Music Selector Is The Soul Reflector - Deee-Lite
Party Girl (Turn Me Loose) - Ultra Nate
This is a very fun, unique film, but it has its flaws.
I found most of the supporting characters to be underdeveloped - they had the chance to go in interesting directions, but never did. The audience knows Leo wants to be a DJ, and that he's afraid of freezing up. That's about it. He's also given a love interest, but that isn't really fully fleshed out either; the only thing we know about Venus (we don't even know her last name) is that she is a dancer that dresses in flashy clothes. To make matters even more confusing, towards the end of the movie, Mary, angry that Leo won't get out of the shower so she can use it, gets in with him and starts making out with him. This scene really had no purpose whatsoever - Mary and Leo never showed any indication of being attracted to one another before, and afterwards the movie just goes on as usual. The audience never really learns about Derrick either, other than his obsession with Karl/Kurt and what he has to say about Mary's clothes. The subplot of Rene being an alcoholic just seems thrown in for the hell of it - it's never explored. And pretty much the only thing we learn about Mustafa is that he's a very attractive falafel cart-vendor/Lebanese teacher who isn't against having sex in public places.
Judy's character is a little more in-depth, but her character tends to overreact and can be grating. And the movie throws a going-through-menopause subplot in for her that really doesn't add anything to the film.
I liked the film's idea - a total reversal of the conservative-character-goes-wild movie cliche. However, I found it disappointing that, in the end, in order for Mary to show she's serious about being a librarian, she not only has to
unload her entire collection of vintage couture but has to wear a sedate black suit, glasses and her hair up in a bun. The movie had a good chance to show a sexy librarian (or, wannabe librarian) but instead opted for the tired stereotype of mousy, plain, dowdy librarian. The film played it safe at the end, in that respect, after all. I can't really comment if the film realistically portrayed the '90s club/rave scene - I wasn't there and have never been a club kid. But from what I've read, it came pretty close to the real thing and wasn't heavy-handed at all.
The cinematography wasn't spectacular, but after all, it was a low budget indie film. The stunning costumes Mary parades around in somewhat make up for bland, flat shots and lack in variety of settings. I liked the underlying "knowledge is power" theme, and the forays into existentialism are interesting, if not really delved into. All in all, this is a very charming, likable film that Parker Posey absolutely shines in; if you can get past the flaws in this film, you will definitely enjoy it.