Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) Poster

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Mrs. Parker's isn't the ONLY side of this story
enigmann28 November 2001
While watching this film last night on IFC, I found myself appreciating the social, historical and artistic subject matter. Despite Mrs. Parker's obvious and overwhelming psychological dysfunctions, I felt this was a genuine "true to life" expression of one participant's subjective experiences. This was a unique, if not quite legendary, circle of literary talent -- certainly deserving of serious cinematic treatment such as this.


There was another side to the story -- a healthier, less appalling, less depressing side. To discover "the rest of the story", I highly recommend Harpo Marx' autobiography "Harpo Speaks". Although Harpo also recalls the scathing insults and practical jokes that were a central part of the story of this Round Table group, his book relates a number of hugely funny and sometimes heart-warming scenes that indicate that at least some of these people truly cared for each other and expressed strong positive feelings in many different settings. In short, Harpo's stories (e.g. several "croquet fanatic" episodes) offer a telling comedic counterpoint to Mrs. Parker's almost continually cynical and self-pitying pathos. Read Harpo's book to balance out the negative. You'll be glad you did.
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A closer look at the world of the 1920's through the cynical eyes of writer Dorothy Parker.
Vampire11 September 1998
Since watching this film I have picked up a biography of Dorothy Parker as well as a book of her verse, that is how fascinating I find her to be. Not only her, but the performance of Jennifer Jason Leigh as well, though many have criticized her voice, I didn't find it out of place at all. The film involves us in her life in the 20's, when she was a theater critic for Vanity Fair. Throughout the film are celebrities of the time, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woolcott, Howard Ross, Charles McArthur. The cast is first-rate, particularly Campbell Scott. It is a very quotable movie, full of venomous one-liners, most courtesy of Mrs. Parker. One can certainly admire her spirit to persevere and excel in a world dominated by men. It is helpful to know the members of the Round Table, but isn't necessary in order to enjoy the movie.
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Best of both worlds.
lonecap-23 March 2001
This film represents the best of both worlds in two sets of sometimes opposing criteria.

First, in terms of movies overall, I'd say this is one of my favorites technically/artistically. The sets were great, the acting was great (especially Leigh and Scott, one of my favorite on-screen Romance-That-Never-Was duos, like Fiennes and Blanchett in "Oscar And Lucinda.").

But this is also one of my favorites in terms of enjoyment. I watch it for the scenes I love, and the mood it sets. I will probably not tire of watching and rewatching this film for a long time to come.

Second, in terms of Biopics, this also rates highly. It had enough accuracy/realism to make it a good bio, and enough drama and flare to make it a good pic. A rare combination. I'd say "13 Days" also did that feat well.
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The Dark Side of Fame...
PeachHamBeach26 June 2000
I found this movie totally enjoyable from start to finish. Maybe because Jennifer Jason Leigh is one of the most superb actresses of our time (and of course ignored!!!). Or maybe because I love period pieces with lavish attention to detail in the costumes and production designing. Or maybe because I am always entertained by true stories of humanity. I think in this movie's case, it is all three. This is another portrait of the dark side of fame. Leigh did a wonderful job being Mrs. Dorothy Parker, a 1920s poet and magazine writer who drank (during prohibition New York) and caroused with a large, mouthy group of professionals in the writing and stage business. It's easy for anyone to relate to the lonliness Mrs. Parker feels in this boisterous "circle" of shallow, back-stabbing people. In spite of her gift for smooth, haunting, beautiful poetry (much of it recited in this movie), Mrs. Parker is not happy or fulfilled. Rather she is misunderstood, isolated and self-depreciating. She ends up losing a job over salary disputes, losing her husband to alcohol, and falling deeply and hopelessly in love with the married Charles McArthur (Matthew Broderick), who impregnates and betrays her. Mrs. Parker's only comfort in life is the friendship she has with Bob Benchley (an excellent Campbell Scott). Leigh, speaking with a facinating accent, brings sadness and cynicism to Mrs Parker with perfection.
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Jennifer Jason Leigh at her best
Matthew G Horner24 September 1999
The movie is episodic and depends too much on the viewer's having prior knowledge of the life of Dorothy Parker and her literary friends. Its saving grace is Jennifer Jason Leigh as Mrs. Parker. Her only flaw is that, in trying to look and sound like Parker, her dialog is often hard to understand. Still, one of the greatest and most under-rated performances by an actress in an American film in the 1990s.
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A fine period/bio-pic about a timless writer
elducko12 August 2002
This movie gave a very revealing account of Dorothy Parker and her rapport with the denizens of the Algonquin Round Table. Done in flashback, this movie is easy on the psyche and filled with ascerbic darts that are bounced among the members of the Round Table. One could feel the pain felt by Mrs. Parker as she fights to survive as a writer, and a person, searches for a meaning to life, and wonders why true love is as elusive as masterpiece poetry and short stories roll from her pen.
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Mrs. Parker: The Tragic Romantic
bs19 February 2000
From what I have read of and about Dorothy Parker, she was a paradoxically sad person. A woman that seemed to long for true love but seemed to keep everyone at a safe distance. She seemed to use her cutting wit and great appetite for booze, as a defence against any possible close personal relationship with her friends and peers. The only men in her life were equally committed to keeping their distance and control. This movie captured those feelings and relationships with great acuity. Jennifer Jason Leigh was superb as Dorothy. In fact, all of the actors were fantastic. This film isn't for the crowd that, throng to the next Lethal Weapon sequel in ever growing numbers. Those of you that look for movies with intelligence and style will be greatly rewarded.
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Supervigilance required
howardeisman3 March 2007
I think that this film was meant to be realist and naturalistic. However,there is the reality that this is an entertainment, and the audience has to hear and understand the lines. Supervigilance is required to do this in this movie. Not only does JJL's imitation of Dorothy Parker's speech affectations make the speech and musing of the main character difficult to understand, but the inclusion of background noise, overlapping dialog, and frequent muttering and mumbling of the performers make every character difficult to even hear, much less understand.

Since so much of this movie is about legendary people mouthing famous aphorisms, it is frustrating to only hear snippets of their lines. I suppose the idea was to toss these famous lines away to add naturalism. However, without spotlighting the conversations of the legendary characters, however contrived this might be performed, this is just a very sad movie about a bitter, unhappy, self-destructive, unproductive writer. Not very easy to watch nor very interesting.
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Not a great deal of fun but a well put together film
bob the moo15 October 2003
Towards the end of her career, Dorothy Parker remembers the past days when she was part of the Algoquin Round Table, a group of friends who shared interests in the arts, drink and witty barbs at each others' expense. However behind the wit she has a lot of hurt and the story follows her through broken relationships and lost happiness.

I have seen this film several times but am only writing a review of it now. It always strikes me as being a very worthy film that is `good' and should be appreciated. But, this doesn't make it an easy film to access or watch. On the surface the overlapping dialogue and quick wit makes for a film hat could be accepted several ways. I was stuck in the middle. At once I felt that these people were pompous and condescending but then also felt that they were witty people and clever! The same with Parker herself – at times she was a good character but then at others she was mysterious and very hard to understand.

I suppose this is to the film's credit that it never paints it's subjects in one colour – there is room for interpretation. The one thing that struck me (me who uses a lot of sarcasm) is how much hurt was often put behind the barbs. As one character says, she never talks deeply with any of her friends and never gets beyond the next barbed remark. The fact that her life slides the way it does shows the danger in this. However the film does still allow the brighter side of her life to come out as well so that it isn't al gloom. This still doesn't make it easy watching – there is no one central narrative other than Parker herself. This made it feel a little free floating and aimless and it occasionally felt as hollow and pointless as the quick wit shared by unhappy people around the table.

The cast is pretty good. Leigh does occasionally come over as a woman giving an impression rather than a performance but she does manage to seem more natural when talking rather than quoting. The support cast is made up of quite a few B-grade stars (of quality and some not) and they all give good account of themselves. Broderick, Gallagher, McCarthy, Taylor and Tucci are among the cast but really it is Leigh's film to win or lose.

Overall this is a classy film. The direction and sets really get the period right and film feels good. However at times it seems aimless and much of the film is actually pretty depressing stuff. I took the warning from it of opening up rather than trying to be a smarta*se all the time, but I'm not sure if that was what it was saying. The cast do well and Leigh makes a good Mrs Parker despite just stopping short of out and out impersonation.
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Dorothy Parker: read her, don't watch her
LCShackley25 December 2004
I am a fan of many of the writers who flit in and out of this movie, but I confess I don't know much about their personal lives and habits (except perhaps for Benchley, and Thurber who is only barely mentioned in this film). This film gives the viewer a good sense of what it must have been like to be part of the wildly creative crew that surrounded the legendary Algonquin Round Table, but a very confused picture of Dorothy Parker's life. Only someone who already knows her story, and can keep her various husbands and lovers in order, can piece this mish-mash together. And none of the performers are strong enough to seem like anything more than walk-ons dressed as famous people. (The "gang" scenes work because of the fast pacing; the movie drags when we spend time with the individuals.) According to comments recorded here, Miss Leigh is doing a good vocal impression of Dorothy Parker. Maybe so (I've never heard Parker), but Leigh's delivery is so totally annoying that it's enough to drive the AUDIENCE to suicide. Is she trying to do Hepburn on downers? Sometimes her mannered accent veers toward Transylvanian.

Throughout the movie, Parker herself denigrates her little "doodad" poems, but that's all the film offers us of her creative output. We never really find out about the contents of her books and plays, and how she ended up in Hollywood (and what she wrote there). After a few of her doggerel verses, they become trite. I began to wonder if people think these poems are funny because they know they're SUPPOSED to be funny.

I'm sure there's probably a good movie in Mrs. Parker's life, but I don't think this is it.
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Good cast and excellent production values, with the added advantage that a lot of the dialogue consisted of quotes from the subjects, some of the most acid-tongued and wittiest people ever to put pen to pape
Robert Reynolds7 December 2001
This is not a great movie, but it is a good one, with an excellent ensemble cast and good production values. The fact that a lot of the best lines were written or spoken by the people being portrayed here is a plus and an advantage that this movie has over most others. On the downside, it is too long, the accent affected by Leigh as Dorothy Parker becomes grating at times and the film is a black hole of despair. The documentary, The Ten Year Lunch, about these same people, is equally fascinating, without being nearly so despondent. Perhaps if they ever do a DVD for this, they'll include the documentary as an extra. Recommended for those interested in the subject.
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Terrible bio but good period flavor...
Neil Doyle22 February 2007
As a bio of the witty writer Dorothy Parker, this film is a dud. We have JENNIFER JASON LEIGH, correctly attired in period costume and hairdo, but rattling about in scenes of overlapping dialog and barely discernible comments being muttered by her under her breath. A striking performance? I don't think so. Leigh strikes out here, just as she struck out when she attempted to win plaudits for her Catherine Sloper in WASHINGTON SQUARE.

Nice period atmosphere, sets, costumes and music can't make up for an utterly aimless script that is as empty as the babble going on among the sophisticated literate circle Parker was a part of. She gets some nice support from a cast of competent players but since the whole film depends on understanding what makes Parker tick, it's got to be called a failure.

Parker deserved better than this. Hopefully, some day someone with a sense of how to bring her to life will do so with a script that can make us sympathize with the characterization instead of the sketchy view we get here. Nor does it help that few of the characters bear any physical resemblance to the people they're portraying. Did they know what Robert Benchley looked like?
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"What a morbid question to have just won my heart completely."
moonspinner553 January 2010
As rich an evocation of 1920s Manhattan as "Mrs. Parker" is, one keeps wishing it would offer more...or at least surprise us with some splendorous chatter amongst the haves and have-nots of the literary world. Dorothy Parker, married to a morphine-addicted ex-soldier and recently fired as a writer for Vanity Fair, goes through a succession of men and magazine-published "doo-dads" before gaining a reputation as one of the greatest wits to come out of Depression-era New York City. Hollywood beckoned, but did not satisfy her--nor did life in general, which may be why she talked in a world-weary, dry-arch style which gave the impression of a woman with many disappointments in her closet. This is fascinating subject matter for the movies, yet co-writer and director Alan Rudolph barely dramatizes the material at all; he's so closed off from what's happening on the screen, many sequences plod by without any directorial nourishment. Certainly the large and interestingly cast group of actors on display are worth watching, though there are possibly too many real-life personalities rushing by on the screen, everyone nonchalantly vying for time. Parker's goodbye-cruel-war attitude did not back her up in the end and, living until the year 1967, she survived most of her Algonquin Round Table cohorts. The film does not sentimentalize her or put her up on a pedestal, but neither does it help us to understand the tragedienne living beyond the wincing prose and words of woe. Jennifer Jason Leigh's lead portrayal divided the critics in 1994, yet she's definitely on to something special here. With a more incisive treatment, she may have delivered a true triumph. **1/2 from ****
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Prolonged Agony
bessiesmith-120 June 2010
I have admired Dorothy Parker's work for many years and always found her persona to be fascinating. If someone had told me that it was possible to make a boring film about this lady, I would have disagreed. Sad to say, I would have been wrong. Last night I sat through the entire film, waiting—i vain—for are deeming moment. The script was a hopeless muddle, the acting was strenuous, the music went from bland to annoying, and the direction perfectly complemented these flaws. The only thing this wreck of a film has going for it is the costume design.

Dorothy Parker's life deserves a film treatment, but this failed attempt will probably prevent that from happening any time soon, if ever. What a shame!

Chris Albertson
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Uneven story of fascinating people in a fascinating time
blanche-220 December 2007
Jennifer Jason Leigh is Dorothy Parker in "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle," a 1994 film also starring Campbell Scott, Peter Gallagher, Stanley Tucci, Matthew Broderick, Gwenyth Paltrow, Jennifer Beals, Lili Taylor, Martha Plimpton, Wallace Shawn - a large, excellent cast which would be needed to tell the story of the glittering literary geniuses who were part of the Algonquin Roundtable. Oh, to have been an adult in those days ('20s-'40s) when wit and education and intelligence were so prized! Parker, a unique talent who could write with pathos and humor, was surrounded by the likes of Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, Charles Macarthur, Alexander Woolcott, Deems Taylor and Robert Sherwood. The sad thing is that if you're a young person and you happen to catch this film on the IFC channel, you won't have heard of any of these people. Nor will you be interested enough to look them up. People don't seem to have the intellectual curiosity they once did. I realize these are generalizations - just how general remains to be seen.

The atmosphere is set wonderfully in this film, which tells something of Dorothy Parker's sad life as she finds and loses love. Unfortunately, with possibly the exception of Campbell Scott as Benchley and at times Ms. Leigh, everyone is PLAYING Woolcott, MacArthur, etc. It's all a kind of let's pretend instead us showing us real people -- as famous as they all were, they were human beings. The script is uneven; the crazy, frenzied scenes at the Algonquin are the best ones, but we don't know these people well enough to be interested in smaller scenes.

I had the great pleasure of seeing Jason Leigh on Broadway in "Proof" and she was excellent - she is a very fine actress with a broad range. But in her attempt to successfully have all of Dorothy Parker's externals, she's tripped herself up. I unfortunately only understood maybe 40% of what she was saying. Not only do I doubt that was true of the real Dorothy, I also doubt going that far with the voice was necessary - very, very few people who would see this film ever heard Dorothy Parker speak. It's a little like doing Eliza Doolittle - if you actually spoke pure Cockney, the audience wouldn't understand a word. Parker's droll tones channeled through Leigh's mouth don't work. She does, however, create a very real and very sad person who lived in an interesting time, wrote about it and who loved and drank her way through it.
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Diabolical and pretentious... Boring and unwatchable
Brendan-clarke4 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I didn't like ANY of the actors in this film. All of them do their jobs pretty badly. The fault for this probably lies with the director. Essentially, they told a, possibly interesting story, but they did so very incompetently. I was totally incapable to forget that the lead actress was acting. She was absolutely false from start to finish and I found myself strongly disliking her. The movie is full of scenes with Parker facing the camera in a kind of Shakesperean aside which enabled us to hear her poetry. The poetry is OK I guess but was murdered by the wooden acting and the funny voice that Parker was forcing out without a pause. The rest of the movie is just boring and I couldn't bring myself to finish the thing. I wonder if those people were really as tedious and pretentiously awful as they were portrayed as being. I guess I will never know. If you are interested in Parker, read her original work. This film will do nothing at all to endear her to you.
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The Worst movie I have ever seen
zoemills21 April 2006
I made the mistake of letting some friends talk me into seeing this movie when it came out in the theaters and I have been sorry ever since. I thought the acting was horrible and the plot was so boring. This movie is my bench mark for "Worst Movie Ever"! Whenever I see a bad movie I always ask myself "was it worse than Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle " and no movie since 1994 has surpassed it yet. You may like it if you are a fan of that period or Ms.Leigh. I have seen her in other movies before since and I have no problems with her or her acting. I Just found this movie to be hard to watch. I hope this review serves as a warning just so you know that not every one enjoys this movie.
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Actors running around playing dress up does not a movie make.
suzy q12315 May 2001
This attempt recalls the old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney films, where

they all decided to "put on a show!!" and wore their parents clothes and

their mom did the make up and it was a big hit! I kid, but just barely.

An interesting failure, rent this to see lots of 80's actors playing

dress up and saying witty bon-mots as though they understood them.

Jennifer Jason Leigh, normally a fine actress, puts on an accent that

just about brings down the film. I've heard tapes of Dorothy Parker, and

she sounds nothing like this. Campbell Scott is fine, as always, as are

a few of the smaller roles, but overall this is an awkward attempt at

playing grown up. Read Mrs. Parkers books, save yourself a bad

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Curiously flat and affectless
escoles8 October 2000
While the performances and the writing are technically good, the overall impression is that of a lack of affect -- nobody in this movie really seems to care much of anything about anything. The only glimpses we have of Dorothy Parker (and slim glimpses they are) as anything but a sadly underestimated party girl are in her poetic interstices. Perhaps that's the point, but if so, it's lost in an Altmanesque whirl of cameos. The title accomplishes more to drive the theme than the whole of the movie; for me, that's a sign the movie just -might- have been better made.
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Boring biopic
Ricardo Santos26 January 2000
Alan Rudolph repeats the mistakes committed by himself in The Moderns (1988), or James Ivory's "Quartet" (1981) in adapting the ambient and the atmosphere of the 1920's artistic world. I don't know exactly why, but both films insist in going bored, slow-paced. Add this the fact that "Mrs Parker..." is a biopic about writer and screenwriter "Eternally Unhappy Dorothy Parker" and her pals of the Algonquin Hotel Round Table. Surely a deserved tribute to these crazy bunch, but, why so dull and preposterous?
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The film is a beautiful reappearance of McCarthy in his most amazing yet brief appearance.
mcpoo21 September 1999
I love the film. I had read a little of Parkers work before I saw it and fell madly in love afterwards. I was very much impressed with J.J. Leigh's performances and dually noted in regard to M. Broderick and A. McCarthy. Much appreciation is directed towards all involved.
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A little film that I quite enjoyed
wheevandor5 July 2001
It seems from reading the other user comments here that one either loves or hates "Mrs. parker and the Vicious Circle" (I personally love the movie). I'll be the first to agree that my tastes in films don't generally lean toward the mainstream. I personally feel that most big box office films belong to the "straight to video" film genre (geezzzzzzzz is that a new genre, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, if it is maybe I can get it copyrighted). I tend to enjoy art house movie fare and I find that this movie fits the bill quite nicely. If you can look for a copy of this film on laserdisc, since, it's the only widescreen version of the film available (plus it contains a short documentary about Dorothy Parker herself).
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Like Mrs. Parker herself, talented but unfulfilled
Dehlia_7 June 2004
A couple of years ago, I visited Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in Manhattan, where several representatives from the Algonquin Circle were "meeting." It is absolutely remarkable how much the real Mrs. Parker resembled Jennifer Jason Lee, and Lee does a fine job in the role. The real stand out in this huge ensemble cast (which includes Matthew Broderick, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jennifer Beals) is Campbell Scott, simply remarkable as Robert Benchley.

The movie itself is uneven. Early on, we see Parker and Benchley in Hollywood in the 1940s, where they are cordial at best, and then a flashback to Algonquin Circle days (the 1920s) begins. We naturally expect to find the root of the estrangement, as the entire construction screams that "something happened." But the movie doesn't deliver on its promise; we see a complex and tender relationship, but we never see what "happened" that would prevent them to continue in their fond dance of never-quite-romance. Despite its failure to provide a denouement, this relationship is the soul of the movie and very much worth seeing.

Otherwise, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle barely rises above the typical tortured artist story. Mrs. Parker was brilliant but unfulfilled. Mrs. Parker drank and attempted suicide. Mrs. Parker recites her own poetry into the camera. Yadda yadda. By the end, Mrs. Parker totters and slurs to such an extent that one wonders if this can possibly be true, it seems a parody. My sense is of a script that veered away from its own fulfillment, and wanders around the outside. 7/10
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How can a movie with Jennifer Jason Leigh be this bad?
DomiMMHS23 May 1999
It's simple: Because it is just plain boring. And besides, I used to think that the 80s were something like the *arrogant decade*, but then I saw this movie about the 20s, made in the 90s. I hate the attitude these people have, I can't bear it. And actually, most of the time, the movie made me want to sleep!

The whole 20s plot completely sucks, I couldn't care less. It's like one hour and a half without anything happening. But there are also scenes, filmed in black and white, from the 40s and 50s. And I must say, these scenes excel. And here Jennifer Jason Leigh almost saves it. She acts and suffers without any restrict and she is very good especially when she's suffering and when she's sarcastic. Actually she smokes and drinks and has sex all along, and I couldn't care less about it, and her face constantly tells you everything, without being too obvious. But I couldn't care less about any other character or actor in the movie. I really felt it's just awful, most of its running time. However, the final 10 minutes really saved it.

Still, Jennifer Jason Leigh is bitter to an extent that isn't easy to bear, and I don't understand why anyone bothered making a *movie* like this. For if you'd cut Ms Leigh's performance out, nothing would *move* at all! 3 out of 10 points.
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Interesting if you know the writing of the period
vivesi-126 March 2003
Dorothy Parker was certainly a character and a witty writer, but the lives of writers are typically hard to film for obvious reasons. This movie does an adequate job and Jennifer Jason Leigh turns in the best possible performance (as we've come to expect from her). The script and the other characterizations are a bit thin but this movie is definitely worth it of you happen to be a Parker fan. Men don't make passes...
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