Dorothy Parker remembers the heyday of the Algonquin Round Table, a circle of friends whose barbed wit, like hers, was fueled by alcohol and flirted with despair.
Having commemorated 1920s New York society to marvellous effect in The Moderns, Alan Rudolph returns to this swirling world of writers and artists for his latest period piece. It was an era when people actually read, and columnists, critics, essayists, humorists and editors had influence and fame. Among the most brilliant and most often quoted was the acid-tongued wit Dorothy Parker, whose set held court in the dining room of The Algonquin Hotel at lunchtimes, a clique celebrated as The Round Table.
The film, alas, is seldom as witty as the legendary wags it portrays, beautifully costumed and compulsively engaged in swapping ripostes over scrambled eggs and seas of booze. Rudolph choose instead to focus on the creative frustrations and woundings by love that abetted Parker’s decline into a discontented drunk. What holds it together is not the dramatically diffuse and dreary screenplay but an extravagant, passionately committed performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who submerges herself into the eccentric, affected speech and emotional vulnerability of the role and captures Parker’s self-mocking despair with intercut recitations of her bitter poetry.
Of the famed circle, Scott is the standout as humorist Robert Benchley, Parker’s confidant. Matthew Broderick is playwright Charles MacArthur who she loved and lost, while the rest of cast is filled out with an array of colourful young actors, including Martha Plimpton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stephen Baldwin. A colourless Andrew McCarthy is the negligible Mr.(ital) Parker and Peter Gallagher appears as her later husband.
Much like Parker’s career, the film begins with scintillating flashes of what might have been, but slowly — very slowly — deteriorates into waspish repetition. The worthy-but-dull tag fits with ease, with only the divine Miss Jason Leigh to break through the monotony
Great cast put to waste.