Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party.

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It would be easier to list the movies and TV shows Stephen Tobolowsky hasn’t been in than the ones he has. You know the guy: Ned Ryerson the insurance agent in Groundhog Day, Commissioner Jarry in Deadwood…yeah, him. In 2005, groundhog-day.jpghe got top billing at last, not just name above the title but hell, name in the title, in Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party. (Has any other actor achieved that besides John Malkovich?)

ST’sBP finds the actor preparing his home for the arrival of guests to celebrate his birthday, and then invites us to the party. It is a framework for him to tell stories about things that have happened to him in his life. In the first portion of the film the camera is the only audience; in the second, once the guests have arrived, he addresses himself to them. (Amy Adams is there.) The film has the aura of a “documentary,” but it can’t be one, unless it’s the truth that at Stephen Tobolowsky’s house no one else ever gets to talk.

Tobolowsky’s stories seem to reside somewhere between fact and fiction. Think a Jewish Spalding Gray. I am sure every tale Tobolowsky tells is based in truth, but they are shaped like short stories, and they have the aura of performance art. He is very good at telling them. If you’re looking for something a little different to rent one night, I recommend the film, which is available from Netflix.

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