Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1994. Fine Line Features, Mayfair Entertainment, Miramax, Odyssey Entertainment, Park Bench Productions. Screenplay by Alan Rudolph, Randy Sue Coburn. Cinematography by Jan Kiesser. Produced by Robert Altman. Music by Mark Isham. Production Design by Francois Seguin. Costume Design by Renee April, John Hay. Film Editing by Suzy Elmiger. Academy Awards 1994. Cannes Film Festival 1994. Golden Globe Awards 1994. Independent Spirit Awards 1994.
Alan Rudolph, the mini-Robert Altman, comes up with a formless foray into the world of Dorothy Parker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the Algonquin set of New York in the 1930s. Parker, a noted drama critic and fiction writer, was the most notable individual of a group of writers, painters, actors and other artists who gathered at Manhattan’s Algonquin hotel to such an extent that they actually became a curiosity for tourists to see. The film, which peers into the lives of most of these individuals while hinging its focus on Parker, is endlessly entertaining provided you come to it with an interest in one or more of its subjects. Leigh herself has found her perfect role: the great wit was over the top and completely melodramatic, and the actress is marvelously smooth in her representation. Backing her up is a magnificent performance by Campbell Scott as her longtime best friend Robert Benchley, plus excellent support by (among many, many others) a then-unknown Gwyneth Paltrow as a fictionalized version of Tallulah Bankhead, Sam Robards and Martha Plimpton as Harold Ross and Jane Grant (who started the New Yorker) and Lili Taylor as Show Boat novelist Edna Ferber. Lots of Parker’s work is featured here (through Leigh’s excellent dramatic readings), and Rudolph’s camerawork manages a beautifully accurate glimpse at a sunny, stylish Manhattan of yesteryear (though it’s actually filmed in Montreal).