Party Girl, which has opened the Un Certain Regard program at Cannes, is “a docu-style French dramedy about an aging cabaret girl who tries to change her ways by getting hitched to a former client,” writes Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter. “Starring the actual people the story is based on, and directed by the heroine’s own son, Samuel Theis—along with co-directors Marie Amachoukeli and Claire Burger—this real-life narrative veers too close to home to remain entirely captivating, losing itself in scenes that draw a fine line between improvisation and reality television. But as a portrait of a woman looking for happiness in old age (and one that recalls Sebastien Lelio’s 2013 critical favorite, Gloria) it offers up some touching moments, with star Angelique Litzenburger playing herself through times both good and bad.”
“There is an engaging realist style here, and some forthright performances, but it does not quite achieve the depth and narrative satisfaction that the drama appeared at first to promise,” finds the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “The setting is Lorraine on the French-German border, where the people are unselfconsciously bilingual; it inhabits its locale with good humor—this is a world of clubs and bars, where no-one has that much money but everyone likes to have a good time.” Party Girl is “genuinely steeped in its world and there is no fakery. But in the end, there is not quite enough substance there.”
“Despite the participation of Theis, his mother and his three siblings Mario, Severine and Cynthia, the drama is no sentimental celebration,” notes Charles Gant in Variety. “Angelique is depicted as having a soft spot for Paris-dwelling Sam, and the reverse is doubtless also true, but the filmmaker doesn’t flinch from gazing candidly at her flaws as well as her finer qualities.”
“Angelique’s overriding characteristic is that she is incapable of fundamental change which makes her at best a frustrating protagonist for this drama, which essentially describes a complete circle and eventually leaves her exactly back where we found her, only having hurt a few more people along the way.” Jessica Kiang at the Playlist: “Perhaps this would not be quite such an issue if the tone of the film were not so firmly established from the outset, but already a few scenes in we know that either the filmmakers are going to be truthful to Angelique and have her go nowhere, or they’re going to sell out the story’s realism in order for something to surprising to happen. We suppose it’s to their credit that they go the former route, but it does make for an enervating watch which ultimately has little to say, except the depressing and rather well-worn conclusion that you cannot escape who you are.”
For Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, “with its strikingly credible performance at its center, the movie manages to hit a resoundingly sad note without overplaying it.” And Screen‘s Mark Adams finds Party Girl to be a “fascinating, raw and often powerful interweaving of fact and fiction.”
Updates, 5/17: “Some of the film flirts with cruelty, especially during one night of drunken desperation,” writes the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, “but it also resists turning its protagonist into a saintly martyr—the stripper with a heart of gold, or some such cliché. And while I’m not entirely certain why it took three young directors to make this very modest movie, I’m grateful they did. There’s something disarmingly moving about Party Girl’s vision of compromise, and of adult children pulling for a mother they’ve long feared would never find happiness.”
“Party Girl may tread familiar ground but Theis-Litzemburger is utterly convincing as the self-absorbed, beguilingly unaware lead,” writes John Bleasdale at CineVue.
Update, 5/19: Nigel M. Smith talks with the filmmaking family for Indiewire.