Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)
Reviewed by Pamela Siska
The scenes set in the 1920s and 1930s in which Parker interacts with other Algonquin Round Table members and hangers-on -- such as those showing Parker and Robert Benchley writing for Vanity Fair, the birth, growth, and eventual dissolution of the Round Table, parties at artist Neisa McMein’s, nights drinking in speakeasies -- are lively and engaging. These scenes capture the flavor of the era, and they feature the badinage and backbiting for which the Round Table members became famous.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie becomes tedious -- namely the scenes that focus on Parker's unhappy love life and the interspersed black and white monologues delivered by an older Parker in the 1940s and 1950s.
Mrs. Parker is rather one-dimensional, focusing on Dorothy’s romantic disappointments and her drinking and suggesting that these two aspects of her life fed off one another to create a vicious circle. The film even implies that one of Parker’s romantic disappointments, or at least frustrations, concerned her dear friend Benchley: that underneath their “intellectual friendship” lurked feelings of physical attraction and romantic longing that were never acted upon. The viewer may wish to take such scenes with a grain of salt. Focusing as it does on her love life, Mrs. Parker does not really reveal very much about Parker, about her early years, her politics, her literary influences, her decidedly complex character. See the movie, but supplement it by reading biographies of Parker and Benchley (see Bibliography).
Directed by Alan Rudolph. Produced by Robert Altman. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker, Campbell Scott as Robert Benchley, and Matthew Broderick as Charles MacArthur.