Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Synecdoche, New York

Directed by Charlie Kaufman.
2008. Rated R, 124 minutes.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Samantha Morton
Michelle Williams
Catherine Keener
Tom Noonan
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Hope Davis

Caden (Hoffman) is a theater director who’s life is quite literally falling apart. After winning a prestigious grant he sets out to create the play of all plays using what eventually becomes a life-sized model of New York. Director/writer Charlie Kaufman is also the man who wrote Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and this is similarly odd in execution. We also get treated to another great performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman. However, I must admit I’m a big fan of his. I’d probably enjoy him reading the phone book. Michelle Williams also does an excellent job as Caden’s second wife Claire, as does Tom Noonan as Sam, who gets hired to portray Caden in the play. Oh, and kudos to Kaufman for using women in his cast that look like, well, real women.

The problem is the movie is made up of metaphor upon metaphor upon metaphor upon…you get the point. What the directors (both the real one and his fictional counterpart) are trying to do is fairly simple but the method is ridiculously convoluted. Any tangible ideas are buried beneath mounds of symbolism. It’s a classic example of why great writers shouldn't necessarily direct their own screenplays. With no one to rein him in, it seems he took every “deep” idea that he had and threw it up on the screen. To top it all off, he completely failed with all those “real” looking women. The very basic question is why on Earth would seemingly every woman he comes into contact with, except first wife Adele (Keener), be madly in love with or be sexually attracted to this guy? Not only is he coming apart at the seams, both physically and emotionally, everyone can plainly see that he is. He's rather repulsive and doesn't exactly ooze sex appeal. Finally, I’m going to need someone smarter than me to explain the constant fire in Hazel’s (Morton) house.

Fans of the aforementioned Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind should give this a look. The truth is, even though I’m a big fan of both those movies maybe I just didn't get this one. You might, and hail it a great artistic achievement. For the rest of us, not so much. It’s definitely original and quirky, but often frustrating to watch.

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