Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle is a 1994 American film scripted by screenwriter/director Alan Rudolph and former Washington Star reporter Randy Sue Coburn. Directed by Rudolph, it starred Jennifer Jason Leigh as the writer Dorothy Parker and depicted the members of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers, actors and critics who met almost every weekday from 1919 to 1929 at Manhattan's Algonquin Hotel.
The film was an Official Selection at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d'Or. The film was a critical but not a commercial success.
Peter Benchley, who played editor Frank Crowninshield, was the grandson of Robert Benchley, the humorist who once worked underneath Crowninshield. Actor Wallace Shawn is the son of William Shawn, the longtime editor of The New Yorker.
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker
Campbell Scott as Robert Benchley
Martha Plimpton as Jane Grant
Sam Robards as Harold Ross
Lili Taylor as Edna Ferber
Stanley Tucci as Newt Hunter
James LeGros as Deems Taylor
Nick Cassavetes as Robert Sherwood
David Thornton as George S. Kaufman
Tom McGowan as Alexander Woollcott
Gary Basaraba as Heywood Broun
Jennifer Beals as Gertrude Benchley
Matthew Broderick as Charles MacArthur
Keith Carradine as Will Rogers
Jon Favreau as Elmer Rice
Peter Gallagher as Alan Campbell
Malcolm Gets as F. Scott Fitzgerald
Heather Graham as Mary Kennedy Taylor
Andrew McCarthy as Edwin Pond Parker II
Stephen Baldwin as Roger Spalding
Gwyneth Paltrow as Paula Hunt
Wallace Shawn as Horatio Byrd
Director Alan Rudolph was fascinated with the Algonquin Round Table as a child when he discovered Gluyas Williams' illustrations in a collection of Robert Benchley's essays. After making The Moderns, a film about American expatriates in 1920s Paris, Rudolph wanted to tackle a fact-based drama set in the same era. He began work on a screenplay with novelist and former Washington Star journalist Randy Sue Coburn about legendary writer Dorothy Parker. In 1992, Rudolph attended a Fourth of July party hosted by filmmaker Robert Altman who introduced him to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. Rudolph was surprised by her physical resemblance to Parker and was impressed by her knowledge of the Jazz Age. Leigh was so committed to doing the film that she agreed to make it for "a tenth of what I normally get for a film".
The screenplay originally focused on the platonic relationship between Parker and Robert Benchley, but this did not appeal to any financial backers. There still was no interest even when Altman came on board as producer. The emphasis on Parker was the next change to the script, but Rudolph still had no luck finding financing for "a period biography of a literate woman." Altman used his clout to persuade Fine Line Features and Miramax—two studios he was making films for—to team up, with the former releasing Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle domestically and the latter handling foreign distribution. Altman claimed that he forced the film to be made by putting his own money into it and "I put other projects of mine hostage to it. I did a lot of lying".
Rudolph shot the film in Montreal because the building facades in its old city most closely resembled period New York City. Full financing was not acquired until four weeks into principal photography.
The film's large cast followed Leigh's lead and agreed to work for much lower than their usual salaries. Rudolph invited them to write their own dialogue, which resulted in a chaotic first couple of days of principal photography. Actor Campbell Scott remembered, "Everyone hung on to what they knew about their characters and just sort of threw it out there." Actress Jennifer Beals discussed this in her appearance on the Jon Favreau documentary program Dinner for Five, wherein she stated that much dialogue was improvised in the style of the real-life characters actors were playing, but that many of those characters were not integral to the plot. As such, many of the actors had much larger parts that were edited down to nearly nothing. The cast trusted their director during the 40-day shoot. They stayed in a run-down hotel dubbed Camp Rudolph and engaged in all-night poker games. Leigh chose not to participate in these activities, preferring to stay in character on and off camera. She did a great amount of research for the role and said, "I wanted to be as close to her as I possibly could." To this end, Leigh stayed for a week at the Algonquin Hotel and read Parker's entire body of work. In addition, the actress listened repeatedly to the two existing audio recordings of Parker in order to perfect the writer's distinctive voice. Leigh found that Parker "had a sensibility that I understand very, very well. A sadness. A depression."
A rough cut of Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle was screened at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival where it divided film critics. It was rumored afterwards that Leigh re-recorded several scenes that were too difficult to understand because of her accent but she denied that this happened. The film was an Official Selection at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d'Or..
For her performance in the film, Jennifer Jason Leigh was nominated for both the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead.