Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle [1994]

Genre: Biography, Drama
The press kit's historical notes should be standard issue for anyone who sees Alan Rudolph's (The Moderns, Choose Me) look at the famous intellectuals who dotted New York's finest hour in the 1920s. If you only know the names of Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, et al. in passing, this movie will hardly generate more study. These writers and thinkers, most famous for having lunch daily at the Algonquin Hotel, seem as weightless and thin as the fictional ones in The Moderns. Most luminous is Mrs. Parker (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whose passion for unhappiness is rarely interrupted. Leigh, in a performance that viewers seem to love or loathe, swirls "witty" dialogue with pure force and must be praised for keeping your interest in a life that was so dreary. The chief problem is not the performances (Campbell Scott is quite fun in a change-of-pace role); it's that the movie comes off as a taped show on stage: the characters are not real and it's all dress-up. Rudolph illustrates his main character's writing (done far too seldom in writers' bios) by having Leigh speak Parker's poetry directly into the camera. --Doug Thomas

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