I avoided this movie when it was first released, even though Dorothy Parker is one of my favorite writers. I had a girlfriend at the time who worked at the candy counter of a theater where this was playing, and she reported that Jennifer Jason Leigh was “awful” in this. So not wanting to ruin the half-formed image I had oof Parker, I skipped it. About two years ago, I had read just about every word that Parker had written, and had just seen Leigh in Single White Female, which she was great in, and so I reluctantly watched this. It was great. Since I had read so much by and about Parker, I did not learn much new about her, though this film is good for evoking the feel of Parker. Leigh’s performance really bowled me over. Today I found myself wanted to watch this again just to revel in her acting. Sure, she mumbles and slurs through the whole film, but that is how Dorothy Parker really talked. The good-natured pessimism of the writer really comes out through Leigh.
As a biopic, this scores points for good structure, with the main story of Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table in the ’20s filmed in sumptuous color, bookened by black-and-white scenes of Parker working as a scriptwriter for higher in ’40s Hollywood, and back in New York in the ’50s, when she was drifting through boozy middle age, but everyone was still asking her what it was like in the ’20s. The interludes of Leigh reading Parker’s satirical verse into the camera also work to set the proper mood. Some of other members of the Round Table, such as Harpo Marx and Alexander Woollcott are present in almost cartoonish simplicity, but there were so many luminaries swimming around at the time, the director and editor had to magnify things for the sake of brevity.