Irrational Man is the 45th feature that Woody Allen has directed, but what’s perhaps more shocking is that it’s his first film with actress Parker Posey. Triumphantly wearing the crown of “Queen of the Indies” during her prolific 1990s, it’s a shock and wonder Posey hasn’t already worked with Allen, who could easily be labeled the Godfather of the genre.
While Irrational Man may be the start of a fruitful collaboration between the two, Posey has a long history of working with other notable American independent filmmakers. Whether as the star or as a cameo she has the ability to bring a jolt of energy that feels strong enough alone to power a complete film. When utilizing Posey, it’s the director who finds their own way to harness her energy and shape it into the memorable moments that often bear multiple viewings. Looking back on the work she has done with various directors, there are constants that make her a distinct presence: the urbane drawl, the unleashed energy, and a disarming deadpan stare among others, but what’s more notable is the variety of what’s she’s able to pull out of performances. Here are just a few examples of how directors have helped allow Posey to stand out:
It’s hard to stand out in Dazed and Confused, a film that introduced Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, and Adam Goldberg to the mainstream, but Posey’s high-bitch-priestess Darla Marks is the definition of scene stealing. Her character not only inspired countless Halloween costumes but also broke boundaries in terms of “gum-chewing on screen.” It’s an acid-laced Bubbalicious character that makes you wish the torturesses of your own youth were this much fun.
Posey first worked with Hartly in the little-seen, musical short film Opera No. 1, but they collaborated for over 15 years on Hartly’s most notable films, the Henry Fool Trilogy. It wasn’t just a collaboration; the idea to expand the story and characters into multiple films was inspired by the desire to give Posey a leading role. As Hartly states, “I wanted to make a Parker Posey movie.” Fay Grim, the second film in the series is named after Posey’s character, and places her in an unexpected spy setting. It’s a situation seen countless times before: normal, neurotic is placed in extraordinary situation, but in the film she provides a sensibility that feels fresh and distinctly her own. You believe that she’s just as as annoyed with the grocery store clerk as she is with the CIA agent. She carries through to the third in the series, Ned Rifle, which centers on her character’s son, but could very well be another excuse for Hartly to provide another film for Posey.
Another multiple film spawning collaboration for Posey is with comedic auteur Christopher Guest. The filmmaker who defined the comedic potential of the mockumentary genre utilized Posey in three different films as three very different characters.
In Waiting for Guffman, she’s Libby Mae Brown, a small town girl with a passion for Dairy Queen and drama. She employes a detached, unassuming quality that works perfectly with the tone of the film; you never feel a sense of defeat with her despite being able to laugh at the seriousness at which she takes her ridiculous ambitions.
In Best in Show, she plays Meg Swan, an uptight yuppie who hides her rage beneath J.Crew sweater-sets. With the common refrain that dog owners tend to resemble their pets over time, Meg Swan, and her catalogue picked husband, perfectly fits the Weimaraner she dotes on. Her best moments come when she explodes on those around her, lost in her Starbucks haze of self-worth.
Most recently, in For Your Consideration, Posey plays Callie Webb, an actress going for gold as a repressed Jewish lesbian ready to break out. You get a sense Posey pulls from her humble beginnings in soap operas (her first role, in 1991, was on As The World Turns) in order to perfect the overacting that is so fun to watch.
While Irrational Man marks a return to notable feature films for Posey, she’s recently found a renaissance on the small screen. She has regular spots on dramas including Granite Flats, The Good Wife and The Big C, but like her films, she has become a sought after cameo queen for the best in acclaimed indie TV comedy. Louis C.K. on Louie, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein on Portlandia have all included her on their popular shows. On Amy Schumer’s variety show Inside Amy Schumer, she co-stars in an epic skit that satirizes the lengths at which those with allergies take in explaining their situation to waitstaff. The bit encompasses what has made the show so acclaimed: it finds the difficult balance between social commentary, absurdist humor and relatable moments. Finding that balance often requires Schumer to employ additional talent and Posey skillfully moves with Schumer from the mundane to the ridiculous.