All his career, Stephen Tobolowsky has been playing small but memorable character parts. With credits that range from “Groundhog Day” to “Memento,” he most recently surfaced on “Desperate Housewives” as Teri Hatcher’s suspicious insurance agent. In “Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party,” the actor finally gets a leading role — as himself — and it proves to be his most captivating performance yet. Not as quirky as “Being John Malkovich” or degrading as “So Notorious,” the Robert Brinkmann-directed docu exists simply to record on-camera what a terrific storyteller Tobolowsky is off-screen.
Settling on DVD after a 2005 festival run, “Birthday Party” unfolds like a good Spalding Gray monologue, with Tobolowsky sharing unscripted anecdotes as he prepares for and hosts an intimate gathering of friends. Considering how dull most stars come off on DVD commentary tracks, it’s a nice surprise to spend 87 minutes transfixed by the casual insights of a background player. Whether recounting his “birthday miracle” down by the beach or explaining his failed Ronald McDonald audition while beer-braising sausage, Tobolowsky proves a compelling enough main attraction that auds who aren’t immediately turned off by the pic’s modest concept should be happy to sit through a second helping of stories offered as extras on the DVD.