When Michel, a regular at the club of a similar age to Angelique expresses his love for her before proposing to her, she is faced with making the decision to either stay on at the club, or to leave it and everything she’s ever known behind and finally settle down into a more ‘normal’ lifestyle.
Angelique opts for the latter. It appears as though she’s getting tired of the cabaret lifestyle, or at least is aware that she can’t continue to work forever, and with no safety net to fall back on, apart from the possibility of relying on her children, marrying the seemingly gentle giant, Michel, doesn’t seem like a bad get out of jail free card.
However, it appears Angelique may have made her decision too hastily. As the story progresses, her family and friends are increasingly eager for her to go ahead with the marriage and have her ‘happy ending’, yet Angelique herself secretly grows more and more doubtful.
It can’t be denied that the ‘doubtful bride’ narrative has been done umpteenth times before, and whilst the beginning of the film showed plenty of promise, I personally found the end of the story underwhelming, with not as much progression as I had imagined.
That being said, Party Girl is still well worth watching, especially for what it has to say about sex work and
sex workers. The beauty of Party Girl is in the subtle details. Here’s my main takeaways.
A Fly On The Wall Portrayal of Cabaret Life
Party Girl is beautifully shot in a very naturalistic, fly on the wall style which allows the viewer to sit back and take in the everyday moments of Cabaret life. The opening montage paints a picture of it being something that is not totally glamorous, but also not one of total torture.
There’s moments of thrill, moments of anger, moments of sentimentality, moments of sadness- the mix of emotions is what makes the montage beautiful, under the pink and green lights of the bar.
We get a bit of insight into the cabaret lifestyle out of hours also and there is a clear emphasis on the sisterhood of sex work, an element which sex workers themselves know to be a major part of their work life, yet an element which is not addressed much in media.
However the film also addressed the bitchiness between sex workers that can often occur in competitive environments like
strip clubs and cabaret bars.
The Struggles of an Ageing Sex Worker
Although Party Girl may have been lacking in its plot progression, the film succeeded in a creating a captivating portrait of a mature sex worker. Sonia Theis’s sensitive portrayal of Angelique combined with enough time alone between viewer and protagonist allows us to make a real connection with her character.
Little details, such as moments spent in her bedroom that show us the few, but precious belongings she has are some of the most intimate moments of the film.
Angelique’s age is judged by both clients ‘You should be paying me’, fellow workers, ‘You’re finished- over.’ as well as her children who constantly make disparaging jokes about their mother’s age and attractiveness, to which she feels forced to laugh along.
Whilst those around her try to push her into the ‘Invisible Woman’ role now that she’s older, Angelique repeatedly refuses to comply.
Because of this rebellion, it usually seems as though Angelique is confident and comfortable with herself, however we see glimpses of her insecurities, a standout moment being when she shouts at one of the younger cabaret girls, ‘I was a superstar, I was beautiful.You just show your ass and tits.’
Although she’s out of hand, we sympathise. In a profession where your value hinges on your looks, the inevitably of growing old will of course make someone feel suddenly discarded, and ill-treated by an industry that you have given so much of your life to.
Working Class Sex Work
Party Girl represents the unrepresented: the working class, everyday sex worker. In a climate where media either portrays sex work as ultra glam, or ultra damaging, its important to represent the reality of most sex worker’s experience-one that’s pretty average with both good and bad elements.
Being from a working class small town myself, I always feel glad to see that kind of lifestyle represented truthfully on screen and it was funny to see how universal it seems to be. Party Girl is set somewhere on the French-German border but it could just as well be set in Blackpool.
People live to drink (often to excess), their lives are repetitive, spending time with the same people and talking about the same things, and despite hardships, the working class life is often a happy one. It brought great comfort to me, as I’m sure it did to others, just to see a working class setting on screen and to feel familiarity with the characters, the places, and the behaviour.
I also think it was great to depict Angelique as a working class woman, as it highlights a very real issue in the sex industry. As you get older as a sex worker and start to do less, what fallback do you have?
It’s quite common that a sex worker would consider marrying a client, for safety, even though they don’t want to, and might not even feel safe with them. This isn’t a position that anyone should ever have to be in.
Debunking ‘Whore’ Tropes
Just because you’re a sex worker, it doesn’t mean you play ‘male fantasy’ 24/7. Michel learns this when Angelique moves in with him and turns up to bed in regular PJs, ‘A bar hostess…I thought you’d have less on.’
Just because you’re a sex worker, it doesn’t mean you’re comfortable with all levels of intimacy with anyone, and in fact, Angelique feels herself physically reject intimacy with Michel because deep down she knows that she doesn’t love him.
Whilst Michel wants Angelique to be the cabaret male fantasy for him, he quickly becomes intent on moderating her behaviour around other men, expressing how he can’t leave her alone for a few moments. At one point he even slut shames her, ‘go back to your whore house!’ (as if he wasn’t a regular paying customer himself!)
Michel, as well as Angelique’s children, want her to have a ‘redeemed sex worker’ narrative. They want to imagine her job as a troubled, unserious phase that she eventually comes out the other end from, and they push for her to marry because they think it’s best for her; they choose to believe that Angelique is happy because it’s convenient for them.
Michel thinks he’s rescued Angelique from her ‘whore’ life, and so cannot fathom when she doesn’t seem happy. What he doesn’t understand is that Angelique was never a victim in the first place, and so didn’t need rescuing. He gets angry, assuming that she misses being a ‘whore’.
For Angelique, her job was not just about sex, but about the friends she had and the huge sense of belonging she felt at the bar, but those around her seem unable to grasp this.
Although in some ways, I was underwhelmed by the progression of ‘Party Girl’, I did like the message portrayed in the ending. Eventually, Angelique rejects a safety net, rejects the social pressure, and stays true to herself, choosing her freedom and independence, the thing she has always prioritised.
You might find many other sex workers also prioritise these things- that’s partly why they’re in the profession they are.