Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle

Alan Rudolph’s 1994 feature about writer Dorothy Parker and the famous Algonquin wits she hung out with in the 20s certainly has its pleasures, but someone should tell Rudolph that, for all his skill and charm, period movies aren’t really his forte. As a clever postmodernist neoromantic, he’s much better at drawing on the moods of classic Hollywood to reimagine the present than at reinterpreting the past (as he also did in The Moderns, to similar effect). Jennifer Jason Leigh makes an impressive effort to copy Parker’s speech patterns, but her mannerist performance matches the claustrophobic ambience of the direction and script (by Rudolph and Randy Sue Coburn) by conjuring up a profile rather than a life or milieu. At its best this movie manages to be very touching, especially in its handling of Parker’s passionate platonic friendship with Robert Benchley (Campbell Scott); at its worst it shies away so steadily from her leftist politics that you will miss them entirely if you leave before the closing credits. With Matthew Broderick, Andrew McCarthy, Wallace Shawn, Jennifer Beals, Sam Robards, Lili Taylor, and Nick Cassavetes. (JR)

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