A striking performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh provides the centerpiece for Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle, a highly absorbing but naggingly patchy look at the acerbic writer Dorothy Parker and her cohorts at the legendary Algonquin Round Table. Alan Rudolph’s latest dramatic mosaic is a natural sibling to The Moderns, his previous examination of a 1920s artistic milieu.
Parker left behind a legacy of often lacerating theater and literary reviews, tart poetry and numerous screenplays (including the original 1937 A Star Is Born). Contrast between the sadness and disappointment of Parker’s personal and creative life, and the exhilaration of important friendships and glittering social swirl, that gives this film its poignance.
Screenplay begins with Parker (Leigh) in Hollywood in 1937. Drenched in weariness and evident self-loathing for having sold out, she is prompted by a young admirer to reflect on the ‘colorful’ days beginning 18 years before in New York City.
Her husband, Eddie (Andrew McCarthy), reveals himself to be a morphine addict, and hardly Dorothy’s match upstairs. At Vanity Fair, she and the other writers, including Robert Benchley (Campbell Scott) wear their salaries around their necks to protest their measly wages, and she is soon fired. Dorothy launches into a passionate affair with rakish newspaperman Charles MacArthur (Matthew Broderick), but it ends badly.
At the heart of the picture is the intense but carefully platonic friendship between Mrs Parker and Mr Benchley, as they nearly always call each other. Married with two sons, Benchley is an editor and drama critic; the lovely relationship between the two lends the film an emotional purity that stands in relief to Parker’s unsatisfactory other relationships.
All this is fine as far as it goes, but the picture ends very abruptly, with the proper connection never made between her declining condition in New York and her subsequent Hollywood career. Shot in Montreal, pic is a real treat physically.