Life is a cabaret

‘Party Girl’ is an entertaining look at an entertaining woman

‘Party Girl’ is an entertaining look at an entertaining woman. (photo credit: PR)
‘Party Girl’ is an entertaining look at an entertaining woman.
(photo credit: PR)
How much you enjoy Party Girl will depend on how much you are charmed by the lead actress, Angelique Theis- Litzenburger. She plays the title role, an aging nightclub hostess who is considering whether or not to give up her wild ways for a secure marriage to a good but unexciting man.
Party Girl, which won the coveted Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival (which is given for a first or second film), as well as the Ensemble Award in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes, is an entertaining look at an entertaining woman, who is essentially playing herself. Angelique is almost grotesque, with the kind of tough old broad face masked by makeup that Fellini would have used in his films. She’s got a tough old voice, too, from years of a diet heavy on whiskey and cigarettes. But her eyes, peering out from her raccoonish eyeliner, have a childlike vitality and warmth. Those eyes have served her well all her life, as she has made a living dancing, partying and getting men to order expensive drinks in a bar near the French-German border, but the rest of her body is letting her down now.
Angelique is 60 and is no longer earning her keep. She has a number of children but is estranged or at odds with almost all of them; she would be the first to admit she’s not exactly mother of the year. She is more maternal with the close-knit group of (mostly younger) cabaret dancers with whom she works than with her own children.
In just about every way she’s on the decline, and now would be the time to leave the life she has always known before she hits rock bottom.
And, as there often is in these movies about a turning point in a woman’s life, a man is ready to take care of her and transform her life.
Michel (Joseph Bour) is a sweet, down-to-earth working-class guy.
It’s hard to imagine anyone better suited for Angelique, although at times it’s hard to believe he would love her and trust her in spite of all her flaws. Most women in her situation would jump at the chance to stop hustling and have a secure future. But the problem is that she still likes to be the party girl.
This subject was dealt with in another recent French film, Copacabana , in which Isabelle Huppert tried to shed her promiscuous, partying ways by selling time shares in order to impress her corporate executive daughter, with predictable results. It makes you wonder: Is this some kind of French social phenomenon? Party Girl is far grittier and less picturesque. When you look at Theis-Litzenburger, you can believe that she’s spent her life drinking, smoking and dancing in a way you can’t with Huppert in Copacabana , and you can see how hard it is for Angelique to give up that way of life.
A number of Theis-Litzenburger’s children appear in the film, among them Samuel Theis, who co-directs and who plays Sam, her son. Sam has moved on from his chaotic childhood and has created a more stable life for himself in Paris. His knowing attitude and his attempt to stay utterly detached from his volatile mother provide some of the film’s funniest moments.
But the movie rises and falls with Angelique. You may find yourself feeling annoyed with her or sympathizing with her children and their annoyance with her rather than finding her adorable. That isn’t what the filmmakers intended, though. They want you to love this woman as much as they do. But that can be difficult, as so much of the time she is utterly self-obsessed.
Party Girl is well made and, at times, an engaging slice of working-class life, but it may make you long for a quiet evening at home rather than a night out on the town.