|Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party (2006)
Starring: Stephen Tobolowsky, Mena Suvari, Ann Hearn, Greg Wagrowski
Director: Robert Brinkmann
The trailer to “Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party” finds a voice intoning, “Once in a generation comes an actor who has been in more films than Tom Cruise, who is linked to more movie stars than Kevin Bacon, and who is taller than Danny DeVito and Verne Troyer…combined.” Despite these stats, when Tobolowsky himself does a series of man-on-the-street interviews, asking, “Do you know who Stephen Tobolowsky is?” it’s quite clear that no one does. (When one guy suggests that he might be a porn star, Tobolowsky grins and says, “Oh, man…from your mouth to God’s ears.”)
So who is Stephen Tobolowsky?
Well, the role most everyone knows him for is that of Ned Ryerson, in “Groundhog Day” (Needlenose Ned? Ned the Head? C'mon, buddy!), but his resume is longer than your arm...possibly even longer your small intestine…with roles in films ranging from “Spaceballs” to “Mississippi Burning” and “Memento” to “Freddy Got Fingered,” plus appearances on TV shows from “Desperate Housewives” and “Seinfeld,” as well as a very special episode of “Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place.” Director Robert Brinckmann first met Tobolowsky at a party in 1987, and he was fascinated by the man’s ability as a storyteller; ever since that night, Brinckmann had wanted to make a film about Tobolowsky, and in 2004, the pair agreed to do a film. The format is simple: Tobolowsky tells stories on his birthday…some before his party, but most during…and Brinckmann films them. It’s just that simple, and, yet, it’s enthralling.
The film begins with Tobolowsky standing on the beach, observing that a friend once told him that “the greatest thing you can do on your birthday is be near something elemental.” He tells a story about a previous birthday, where he went swimming and decided that, since it was a special day, he was going to swim out to where he couldn’t touch the bottom of the ocean with his feet; he succeeded…but, moments after doing so, he spotted a fin. All he could think of, he said, was the girl at the beginning of “Jaws.” (“Not a good memory.”)
The majority of the stories are about his experiences in show business, including an early one where, as a classically-trained actor, he found himself auditioning to be Ronald McDonald. There are, however, some tales that are only tangentially related to the business, like when he was filming “Great Balls of Fire” and got a call from his girlfriend, telling him that she was pregnant, or how he was voted as one of the 100 Coolest People in Los Angeles by Buzz Magazine. (The guy from the magazine who called to tell him of this honor admitted, “I’ve never heard of you,” but Tobolowsky is hesitant to tell him what he’s done that’s cool because that would be incredibly uncool.)
Some of the stories themselves wouldn’t necessarily be that spectacular if you were reading them on the printed page, but when you see Tobolowsky holding court at his birthday party, you quickly realize that it’s less about the tale than the teller, which is why you’ll be glad to be a guest at this “Party.”
If you like what you see during the movie, you’ll be giddy to discover that Tobolowsky told more stories on the evening of his birthday than would fit into the film; as such, you’ll be able to enjoy a series of deleted scenes that, when added up, are actually longer than the film itself! The only other feature is the original trailer for the film, but that’s worth watching, since it includes the aforementioned man-on-the-street interviews, which aren’t in the film itself.