In the 1990s, Parker Posey appeared in so many independent films that she earned the title “Queen of the Indies.” Posey’s output has slowed a hair, with the actress now only appearing in two films a year (usually) instead of four, but she’s always a delight, whether she’s doing a short stint on television (memorable appearances on “Louie,” “The Good Wife” and “New Girl”) or providing bright spots in otherwise dire studio fare (“You’ve Got Mail,” “Scream 3”). In honor of Posey’s 46th birthday, Indiewire has a list of the actress’ ten best performances.
“Dazed and Confused” (1993) – Darla Marks
Richard Linklater’s 1993 masterpiece gave breakout roles to a number of actors, and while Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey often get the most “look at them when” attention, Posey’s performance as the fantastically bitchy Darla Marks rivals them for scene-stealing indelibility. Introduced verbally abusing incoming freshman girls, Darla throws herself into Lee High School’s cruel initiation rites, acting less like an upperclassman and more like a drill sergeant. Yet there’s something perversely entertaining in the sadistic glee she takes in pushing people around, every chomp of gum and shout of “freshman bitches” showing someone who’s acting not out of insecurity, but of pure unadulterated confidence and desire for queen bee status.
“Party Girl” (1995) – Mary
Clearly Posey made an impression, as she beat Affleck and McConaughey for a first starring role in a major film by a year (unless you count the delayed “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” for McConaughey). The first major comedy shown on the internet, “Party Girl” hasn’t aged particularly well on its own: director Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s can’t build up much momentum, and the script takes too many diversions with Posey’s dull pals. But every scene focusing on Posey’s club girl turned librarian is terrific, whether she’s rocking out while filing things or getting overzealous when a customer misfiles a book (“We’ll just put the books any damn place we choose!”). It’s also the first film to take Posey’s naturally cocksure presence and make her someone actively worth rooting for.
“Kicking and Screaming” (1995) – Miami
Posey’s next major role isn’t too far removed from Darla in terms of confidence: Miami is just as certain of herself and where she belongs, and she’s quick to show her irritation at her boyfriend Skippy (Jason Wiles) and his friends’ pretensions. But Miami is far more vulnerable, sad that she’s cheated on Skippy and that he’s used her as an excuse to delay moving forward with his life. Her breakup with Skippy, in which years’ worth of frustration over his group’s self-absorption comes through, is the wakeup call that Skippy won’t take seriously. And yet even as she expresses that she can’t stand him, she can’t help but laugh at his goofiness during the breakup, bringing a mixture of anger and affection that few actresses could accomplish.
“Waiting for Guffman” (1996) – Libby Mae Brown
Director Christopher Guest established a great troupe of regular players for “Waiting for Guffman,” including Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy and Bob Balaban. Posey became another recurring player in Guest’s films, and she made a terrific impression with her first outing here as a spacey Dairy Queen waitress turned spacey community theater actress. Her audition scene is a marvel of awkward comedy as she “seductively” sings “Teacher’s Pet” out of tune. Her real showcase, though, is her dazed performance of the goofy love song “Penny for Your Thoughts” with Guest’s effeminate Corky St. Clair, with both throwing themselves into their show as much as possible without generating a single spark.
“Clockwatchers” (1997) – Margaret Burre
Posey co-starred in yet another ensemble comedy with this “Office Space” precursor tracking four office temps (Posey, Toni Collette, Lisa Kudrow, Alanna Ubach) as they pass the time in a deadening job. As the ringleader of the temps, Posey swings from deadpan contempt to outright fury and pain when she’s wrongfully terminated. “How can you fire me? You don’t even know my name!” Her co-stars are all solid, but Posey becomes the de facto voice of anyone who’s ever had to deal with a corporate drudgery that doesn’t even bother to welcome them into their stifling environment.
“The House of Yes” (1997) – “Jackie-O” Pascal
Posey’s funniest performance came with this incest comedy (directed by “Mean Girls'” Mark Waters), in which she plays a Jackie Kennedy obsessive (named “Jackie-O” and frequently dressed as Jackie herself) who’s in love with her brother (Josh Hamilton), and who isn’t going to hide it just because his fiancee (Tori Spelling) is visiting. Posey begins the film deliriously hyperactive and only grows more unhinged from there, asking Spelling about her sex life (“Pretend he’s not my brother. I do.”) and always smiling just a little too wide and leaning a little too close to her brother. Yet Posey also nails the pathos of her character, making questions about where her relationship with Hamilton stands genuinely moving as well as unnerving.
“Henry Fool” (1997)/ “Fay Grim” (2006) – Fay Grim
Posey had worked with Hal Hartley before in a smaller capacity in “Amateur” and “Flirt,” but she created one of her most indelible characters in 1997 with Hartley’s “Henry Fool.” Playing the nymphomaniac sister of unassuming Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) and lover to Thomas Jay Ryan’s gregarious titular hero, Posey’s deadpan charm fitting in perfectly with Hartley’s deliberately mannered dialogue. Posey returned to the character in the sequel “Fay Grim,” an infinitely less amusing sequel which nonetheless gave Posey a rare lead role and a chance to play Fay both at her most exasperated and her most grounded. Posey appears as Fay Grim again in the third film in the series, “Ned Rifle.”
“Best in Show” (2000) – Meg Hamilton
Posey’s two most recent collaborations with Christopher Guest yielded strong work, both as an overzealous mandolin player in “A Mighty Wind” and as an ingenue playing a lesbian in a piece of awards bait in “For Your Consideration.” But her best performance in a Guest film comes in 2000’s dog show mockumentary “Best in Show,” in which Posey’s braces-wearing, psychotically neurotic Weimaraner owner. One of the best sequences in any of Guest’s films involves Meg’s frantic search for her dog’s favorite toy, “Busy Bee,” and her escalating abusiveness and exasperation with a pet shop owner who insists that a stuffed bear wearing a bee costume is close enough. It’s one of the best examples of Posey’s willingness to make herself look ridiculous.
“Josie and the Pussycats” (2001) – Fiona
Still, she never looked more ridiculous or went more over-the-top than in this underrated, subversive comedy. “Josie and the Pussycats” gets plenty of digs at the inherent absurdity of boy bands, MTV style and brazen product placement, but some of the funniest scenes involve Posey as the head of the Pussycats’ record label in a performance that suggests Darla Meeks growing up to be a cross between Lou Perlman and Norma Desmond, the ultimate status-hungry maniac. Posey even gets a redemption scene near the end that’s both utterly ludicrous and, because of her commitment, bizarrely moving, making this the most unexpected high point in her career.
“Broken English” (2007) – Nora Wilder
Truth be told, “Broken English” doesn’t fully earn its star’s performance. Director Zoe Cassavetes (daughter of John and Gena Rowlands, who plays Posey’s mother here) takes a familiar but potent premise – thirty something woman worries over her directionlessness and permanently single status – and strands Posey in go-nowhere conversations and a dull romance with Melvil Poupaud’s sound designer, only to end on the exact same note as “Before Sunset.” The film is worth seeing, though, for Posey’s beautifully melancholy performance, which retains enough of her innate fire to show what it’s like when it starts to go out. It’s the most insecure and vulnerable Posey’s ever been on film, and it elevates “Broken English” every step of the way.