Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) *


There are two types of successful biopic: the kind that is good enough or interesting enough to divert the attention even of viewers with no prior knowledge of or interest in the subject, and the kind that rewards those who seek it out because of a prior interest.
This, I think, falls very much into the latter category, though if you do have the least regard for the greats of the Algonquin Round Table you should find more than enough diversion, from the simple fun of spotting the famous people being impersonated as they pass by, to enjoying the visual recreation of the lunches themselves, to a number of excellent interpretations by a generally well-chosen cast.

The only problems, if we must stop to consider those lost souls who come to it not already addicted to Parker, Benchley, Woolcott and their peers, is that it moves at a very leisurely pace, there is little dramatic progression and, ultimately I suppose, there isn't really all that much of a story to tell about Parker.
The film's emphasis on her personal problems also gives us a far better sense of how draining she was on her off-days than of what sparkling company she could be the rest of the time. Neither is sympathy easily mustered, her problems seeming somewhat inevitable for one who spends most of their time in superficial pursuits on a diet of prohibition home brew.
Reviews at the time noted the extraordinary oddness of Jennifer Jason Leigh's speaking voice, which was defended as a scrupulous reconstruction of Parker's own; that it may be but it still sounds bizarre. And what price such authenticity when Benchley is presented as a suave sophisticate, played by dishy Campbell Scott, presumably on the grounds that we would not otherwise accept Dorothy's romantic attachment to him?
But it brings the times alive with thoroughness and enjoyment, covers most of the important stops (I particularly liked the recreation of the Round Tablers' stage show Yes, Sirree), and manages to give an enormous cast of characters at least a moment each in the spotlight.
And yes, that is Benchley's grandson, Jaws-author Peter Benchley, as their former editor Frank Crowninshield.