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Parker Posey You’re on an Airplane Review
I have a Parker Posey story to tell you.
On one weekday night at a gay bar in the West Village, I stood next to the DJ booth (or, more realistically, the DJ table) where a friend was spinning some records for a small dance party. It was still early in the night, as a crowd was starting to trickle in, that I realized Parker Posey had entered the bar and marched over next to me. She hugged a mutual acquaintance as I simply stared, in disbelief, that Parker Posey was there right in front of me.
It must have been obvious I was starstruck—maybe my surprised expression gave it away?—because she turned to me and offered a friendly hello. Without missing a beat, I said to her, “I am going to do something that might be kind of weird.”
Her eyes lit up after I offered my disclaimer, right before I handed her my iPhone. There, on the lock screen, was an image of her as her Dazed and Confused character Darla—wearing the white SENIORS t-shirt, just about to scream at all those freshman bitches as part of the annual hazing event that opens Richard Linklater’s cult classic.
“I’m flattered!” she said immediately, to which I replied, “Oh nice! I’ll have something to tell my mom when I’m home next week.” It was mid-December, so she then asked, “Oh, are you going home for Christmas?” Still shocked that I was talking to Parker Posey, and doubly blown-away that she was now making small talk in a bar, I offered a quick “Yep!!!” as I retrieved my phone and quickly hurried away, both out of embarrassment and glee that I’d had what could be the best possible celebrity encounter.
I don’t offer that story as a brag (well, not completely), but rather to say that if you read Posey’s new book, You’re on an Airplane: A Self-Mythologizing Memoir, you too will feel like you’ve just had a charming interaction with the actress. It feels like an old-school celebrity memoir, one that avoids the tropes of redemption narratives (struggle, overcoming that struggle, and ultimate self-discovery) that famous people pay someone to ghostwrite for them.
To take its title quite literally: Posey speaks directly to you, the person who happened to sit down next to her on a flight—a flight long enough for her to tell tales of down-and-dirty indie movie shoots from the ’90s (back when movies were actually filmed on film), trying not to crack up during scenes with her Waiting for Guffman co-star Catherine O’Hara, and offering alternate Hollywood realities in which she got the role in Speed that went to Sandra Bullock or the Girl, Interrupted part that earned Angelina Jolie an Oscar.
There’s a certain whimsy Posey has exhibited in all her films—from her iconic performance as a club-hopping librarian in Party Girl, to the more manic and low-key dangerous young women she played in The House of Yes and Dazed and Confused—that transfers over to the pages of her book. The idiosyncrasies are seemingly genetic; she shares stories of her Southern family, all of whom sound like characters from a mid-century comic novel. These tall tales give some insight into what drove Posey into her career: “I’m a character actor because I come from a family of characters,” she says early in the book. “When people ask if anyone in my family is an actor, I say all of them.”
Posey is a natural storyteller; performing, in any way really, is mostly about sharing stories. And she’s gathered some good ones for her memoir, which also perfectly encapsulates the delightful weirdo you assume she is just by watching her play different people on screen. In the ’90s, she was the indie it-girl, and the fame she earned allowed her to get smaller roles in bigger films. The best is no-doubt You’ve Got Mail, playing the acidic girlfriend who loses Tom Hanks to Meg Ryan. She also starred, strangely, in Blade: Trinity as a vampire named Danica Talos whom Posey describes as “deep and dry and tired of being a vampire.” She boasts of her commitment to the role, as silly as it was—she proudly wore her fangs as she ran errands around the East Village, and ad-libbed funny lines to flesh out the character. “There’s a fine line, I’ve found, between being playful and becoming inappropriate, or even difficult,” she says.
Parker Posey showing off her Blade fangs.
AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo
What I love so much about You’re on an Airplane is not just the vibe you get from Posey sharing stories and being a little silly with you, but the tone with which she reveals that she, herself, doesn’t have it all figured out. I can’t quite imagine her as Keanu Reeves’s co-star in Speed (or playing Robert De Niro’s daughter in Meet the Parents, another part she auditioned for), and maybe it’s better that she wasn’t in those movies. But she reveals a certain disappointment in not getting the roles she was put up for. She’s an actress after all, and she’s got people around her telling her that she’s supposed to want them even when they don’t make sense (and, in the case of something like Blade, she has to put a lot of effort into enjoying the job she’s taken on).
Acting, of course, is supposed to be fun and glamorous—us mere viewers forget that it’s a job for the people we’re watching on those screens, big and small, and it’s sometimes just as frustrating as our boring ones (although, you know, they get paid a lot more money). For someone so self-assured to publish a wacky memoir full of funny pictures and cocktail recipes and yoga endorsements, Parker Posey is blissfully not immune to self-effacement and bouts of existentialism. “I don’t feel glamorous, I feel like a possum,” she writes. “Acting is the possum’s defense… When threatened, they play dead—and they’re very convincing at it. They scare themselves so deeply that their eyes roll back into their heads and their little tongues stick out… They’ll go on with the act as long as they’re terrified and it’s truly ghoulish, because they’ve been known to be buried alive—they’re famous for it.”
Sometimes our heroes reach that status because we’re in awe of their otherworldly qualities. They’re aspirational figures who make us feel humble and let us imagine ourselves reaching for our own stars. That’s who Parker Posey has always been for me, especially in her film roles—she always played women who I admired, and wanted to be friends with, and was possibly a little terrified of (it all comes back to Dazed and Confused’s Darla, really). But what You’re on an Airplane really reveals is that Posey is as normal as the rest of us, no matter how off-center she is. That’s precisely why the book is such a joy to read as she is to watch.
Okay, I have one more Parker Posey story to tell you: On that December night, in the gay bar in the West Village, a few hours after I had nervously run away from polite conversation with one of my favorite famous people, I was sort-of dancing alone with my drink in hand when a recognizable face caught the corner of my eye. There, a handful of feet away from me, was Parker Posey once again, sort-of dancing alone in a corner. I turned to face her, and she turned to face me, and soon we were dancing together, arms flailing and smiles beaming. And at the end of the song we silently parted ways, and she disappeared somewhere into the chilly Manhattan evening. It didn’t make it into the book—I’m probably one of many strangers she’s danced with in a bar.