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Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Campbell Scott
Director: Alan Rudolph
Rated: R
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: December 1994
Genre: Drama

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

MRS. PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE is the true story of Dorothy Parker (usually called Mrs. Parker) and her literary friends that met every day for conversation at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. They always ate at a round table which was saved every day for the dozen or so of New York's literary elite. There were writers, painters, actors, comedians, and most of all, literary critics. They wrote for many different magazines from Vanity Fair to the one they started, The New Yorker.

The movie happens mainly in the 20s with the focal point being the daily gathering at the Algonquin for lunch. Dorothy had a room there where she was usually delinquent with the bill but where she was not kicked out for obvious reasons. She made her money writing what she referred to as little "do-das" for various magazines. She was a critic, an author and a poet, but most of all she was famous for her round table conversations.

The glue that keeps the film together is black and white footage of Dorothy in the 1940s and 1950s. She talks briefly about her life or she recites a short poem of hers and then we are back in color in the 1920s.

The artists at the round table were sort of the second string of that era. You will recognize the names, but they were not the best. Although the image one has of them is discussing Kant and Nietzsche and of the meaning of life, in fact, the conversations were only of the shallow variety. The banter around the table was nothing more than sarcastic one liners. They had an obsession with being with each other and yet all they could do was issue trite put downs of one another.

Dorothy and all of the artist were heavy and constant drinkers from sun up to sun down. They agreed that as one of the writers put it, "the only way to cure a hangover is never stop drinking." Dorothy's first husband was also a morphine drug addict. She lived her life extremely depressed and tried suicide on many occasions. One doctor asked them why the artist group felt the need to be with each other all of the time and why were they afraid of enjoying life and being happy.

What makes this show worth seeing is the performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh (remember her as the bad girl in SINGLE WHITE FEMALE?). Her performance deserves an academy award nomination. You can feel Mrs. Parker's depression and the utter emptiness of her life. She jumps from one man's bed to another without managing to really ever enjoy herself. Finally, I especially liked the accent, low and raspy, that Leigh used.

Most of the show gets a little tedious and long after a while. Do you like hanging around with a bunch of drunks, albeit some brilliant ones? Do you like sharing your evenings with people who are scared of being anything other than shallow? Want to fall for a beautiful lover who is so depressed she wants to slash her wrists frequently? Accurate this all may be, but it was a bit much for me after a while.

MRS. PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE runs too long at 2:05. It is correctly rated R for some low key, natural nudity, massive drunkenness, and one drug usage scene. Older and mature teenagers could probably see it if they like. Solely on the basis of Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance, I do recommend this movie to you, and I give it ** 1/2.

Copyright 1994 Steve Rhodes

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