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Overall Rating

Awesome: 42.86%
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Total Crap: 7.14%

2 reviews, 16 user ratings

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Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party
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by Scott Weinberg

"Was I supposed to bring a gift?"
4 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2005 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Ever wish you could attend one of those oh-so-swanky Hollywood parties? Meh, not me. Who'd want to be some anonymous nobody in the middle of a flashy star parade? No, the kind of birthday party I'd like to attend is the one hosted by Mr. Stephen Tobolowsky - a laid back and quietly classy affair filled with fine wine and lots of great anecdotes.

For my money there's nothing more interesting than hearing an actor talk about his 'older' movies. Sure, any actor worth his SAG card knows how to shill for whatever their current movie may be, but I prefer when an actor can sit back and chatter about his earlier works, offer his own candid opinions, or spin a long and fascinating story about something that happened 15 years ago in a Texas convenience store. This allows the reader (or viewer) to witness some of the actual flesh & blood reality behind a face that's usually only seen on the silver screen.

And that's precisely why I had such a mellow good time with Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party. Put aside the fact that Stephen's one of those great "familiar face" character actors that you've seen in dozens of movies. (Here's a hint: "Ned Ryerson?!? Bing!") This guy knows how to spin a yarn like nobody's business. Those apt to dismiss a project like STPB as a self-important or pretentious vanity project need only sample the first thirty minutes before they'll be swept up in the man's obvious good nature and affinity for sly story-telling. Stephen Tobolowsky could be a plumber for all I care; the guy still manages to make a 90-minute yack-intensive movie breeze by with effortless zeal.

Directed with no muss and no fuss in a quiet documentary style, Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party is precisely what the title implies. A dozen close friends of the actor stop by for a night full of barbecue, drinks, and illuminating anecdotes. The movie's not much more than Stephen talking non-stop for an hour and a half, yet the film just flies by as if it's been greased with butter. If Tobolowsky weren't such an astute and entertaining orator, this movie would prove drier than burnt wheat toast - and the thing would grind to a halt every eight minutes. Luckily for us he is not, and this is what makes such a potentially self-aggrandizing concept so smooth, witty and exceedingly likeable.

Over the course of the evening, Stephen shares stories about his first child, his worst (telephone) audition, his run-in with a gun-toting lunatic, and his touching adventure with a few dolphins. Movie fans will have a ball with Stephen's war stories from time spent on the sets of Bird on a Wire and Mississippi Burning - yet Mr. Tobolowsky never once comes off as a pompous or coddled "actor-type." This is a guy who could just as easily be your banker or accountant, and he'd probably still be just as articulate and amusing. The fact that he has worked on over sixty movies just makes the guy a bit more intriguing...even if you still don't know who Stephen Tobolowsky actually is.

Find me an intelligent and interesting person and I'll gladly share a 90-minute conversation with him, and that's precisely what you're getting when you visit this particular party. Stephen's guests listen quietly and carefully, not because he's some big important movie-man who commands your silence, but because he's funny, self-effacing, extremely smart...and the guy just knows HOW to tell a story. That's an art form that's rapidly going out of style these days, so it proves to be a refreshing and rewarding experience to eavesdrop on this particular birthday party.

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originally posted: 02/18/05 17:22:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. For more in the 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 FilmFest Kansas City For more in the 2005 FilmFest Kansas City series, click here.

User Comments

11/10/06 AnnieG Funny stories - I wish he was my friend! (I won the film from efilmcritic!) 4 stars
10/04/06 kirsten not funny, painfully long stories w/the same overly rehersed methods of a televangelist 1 stars
8/15/05 Kary Loved the film, so captivating 5 stars
6/06/05 Michelle Sweetin Absolutely heartfelt and wonderful. 5 stars
4/03/05 josh hagman my favorite film this year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
4/02/05 joe great movie what else can you say 5 stars
3/21/05 Jeff Knipp Great movie. I laughed and laughed... 5 stars
3/20/05 Glenn Worthman A lot like Swimming to Cambodia, and funny 4 stars
3/11/05 Alma Kuttruff Austin 5 stars
3/04/05 Jim Goldfarb Loved it! What a great performer.... 5 stars
3/03/05 HORAN THE MAN!!!!! G-G-G-G-G-G-G-G-GUY!!! 1 stars
2/25/05 Andy Romanoff Simply amazing! 5 stars
2/15/05 Ellen Baker I saw this at Aspen last week. It was the best film there. 5 stars
2/15/05 Stuart Cornfeld I loved every minute of it!!! 5 stars
2/14/05 Roger Marolt Wonderful experience. Great Film. 5 stars
2/03/05 Jeff Kleeman Really different - really funny! 5 stars
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Directed by
  Robert Brinkmann

Written by

  Stephen Tobolowsky
  Ann Hearn
  Mena Suvari
  Gregory Wagrowski

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