Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) 

The Vicious Circle, as they referred to themselves, was a collection of writers, critics and actors who met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel during the 1920’s. Among its founding members were Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Robert E. Sherwood, George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott. In later years, Parker belittled the group, considering them “no real giants. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off”. That quote cues this film’s flashback to the Circle’s beginnings, and then spends the next two hours doing its best to prove the veracity of her assessment.

Having just been fired from the Vanity Fair publication, Mrs Parker, along with Benchley and Sherwood, retire to the Algonquin for lunch. They are soon joined at irregular intervals by their irregular acquaintances, whose growing number frustrates the Algonquin staff. As they engage in witty banter, their voices drown out Benchley’s announcement that he has resigned from Vanity Fair as a show of support for his friend. In much the same way, the movie’s continual use of quips, puns and rejoinders supplants any meaningful dialogue and stifles the development of character and plot. This is no more evident than when Matthew Broderick arrives on the scene, providing in Charles MacArthur a character that doesn’t think his every utterance is worthy of posterity.

Many of Dorothy Parker’s lines were, not that you’d know from Jennifer Jason Leigh’s very mannered performance. Murmuring her lines in a monotone voice that makes its indistinguishable whether she’s supposed to be drunk or sober, Leigh (to paraphrase Dorothy Parker) runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. Even black and white sequences dedicated to the reading of Parker’s poems fail to showcase her wit due to Leigh’s alienating delivery.

At the end, it’s up to an outsider to sum up the film’s major flaw. In describing the Vicious Circle, a psychiatrist observes “it never discussed one subject for too long, and never in-depth.”

mrs parker and the vicious circle, ,  biographical film, biography, review, biopic
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dorothy Parker, Campbell Scott, Robert Benchley, Matthew Broderick
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Jennifer Jason Leigh

as Dorothy Parker

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Campbell Scott
Campbell Scott

as Robert Benchley

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Keith Carradine
Keith Carradine

as Will Rogers

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Tom McGowan
Tom McGowan

as Alexander Woollcott

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Charles MacArthur, Peter Gallagher, Alan Campbell, Lili Taylor, Edna Ferber

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Deems Taylor, Robert Sherwood, George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woollcott, Marc Connelly

Biopic opens with a recreation of Robert Benchley’s short film Home Movies.

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