Stephen Tobolowsky is one of the most recognizable character actors of our time. Usually playing insidious jerks or the requisite cop or doctor, he’s the kind of actor that brings the movie up a notch as soon as he appears. I remember him most as Bridget Fonda’s sleazy boss in “Single White Female” and I’ve loved him ever since. From his debut in S.F. Brownrigg’s enjoyable potboiler horror film “Keep My Grave Open” in 1976, Tobolowsky has become a mainstay in cinema and television (he has over 150 titles to his credit) as the guy whose face you know but name you can never remember. Now he’s been given full court in Robert Brinkmann’s directorial debut “Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party”.
There is no linear story to “Birthday Party”; instead there is only a setting – the party – and a series of tales, all told by Tobolowsky before and during the gathering. Tobolowsky skips around the most interesting memories of his life, from the hilarious antics of being attacked by mechanical piranhas to heartbreaking tales of death and personal epiphanies. His ability to capture a crowd reminds one of the late Spaulding Gray who made storytelling such an art form in “Swimming to Cambodia”. Tobolowsky shows much of the same gift, holding the guests and the movie audience’s attention for the full length of the film, as well as giving us a look inside the personal growth of a man we all recognize yet never really knew. A tough sell but an extremely engaging film that proves that it’s the story that still captivates us, “Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party” is a must for fans of the actor, lovers of good storytelling, or anyone who enjoys hearing about lobsters riding in the seat of an airplane!