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Whether a big screen or a stage, it's never big enough

The big screen's just never big enough

Embarrassing confession time: I’ve never watched “Being John Malkovich” and only saw “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” for the first time within the last six months. That’s quite disgraceful, I know.

That said, I enjoyed “Eternal Sunshine” immensely: as far as narratives go, I usually like them somewhat fragmented and not quite making sense until the end, so that ticked most of my boxes when it came to it, and I found Jim Carrey much less annoying than I usually do (possibly even less-so if “The Truman Show” weren’t on heavy rotation on TV…not that it’s a bad film, but doesn’t anyone else just think that there’s something wrong with his face?)

It’s disappointing that “Synecdoche, New York” is only opening outside of the States now (UK and Ireland release is this weekend, and Oz only got it recently too) when it was amongst the Oscar discussions for this year. Yeah, this is a film that was spoken about in the same breath as “Doubt,” but turns out far superior in my opinion (especially when it speaks such volumes to the failing/struggling writer in me who is his own worst critic.)

In keeping with the results of this poll, I’m going to grade my reviews now, and “Synecdoche, New York” (with the full review below) gets an A+.

More than many other movies, “Synecdoche, New York” will divide its viewers, but in a way far more complex than simple love or hate. The directorial debut from Charlie Kaufman (the writer of “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” and “Being John Malkovich”), “Synecdoche, New York” provides a complex, multi-layered look at life, death and everything in between, and how these grand human concepts are represented in art. For some, this will prove to be pretentious nonsense; for others, too complicated to understand. But for those who appreciate it, “Synecdoche, New York” cements Kaufman’s position as a screenwriter capable of finding beauty and humour in the most unusual of places.

Philip Seymour Hoffmann takes the lead as Caden Cotard, a struggling hypochondriac director at a local theatre. His fraught relationship with his wife Adele (Keener) is complicated by the presence of Hazel (Morton), the box office assistant who makes no attempt to hide her interest in Caden. When Caden wins the MacArthur genius grant, it gives him the long-desired opportunity to stage a play about life itself, using his own experiences as inspiration, and casting actors as alternates to people who already exist, all in an attempt to capture the minutiae of intention and motivation. As the project grows to epic proportions, Caden struggles to maintain his relationships with the various women in his life while clinging to what little sanity he has left, realising that his play, and perhaps his life as well, can never be perfect and wholly understood.

The director's instructions were always always a little OTT

Much like Caden’s efforts in the movie, any attempt to describe exactly what “Synecdoche, New York” is all about runs into problems of proving inadequate: there are many simple (and throwaway) lines of dialogue that can completely change your interpretation of what’s going on, and in terms of style and delivery, the similarities between this and “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” are glaringly clear. As with that film, “Synecdoche, New York” meanders along, seemingly without purpose, until everything is pulled together at the film’s close. What helps this to stand tall over other films that try to be equally artistic is the competence of writer/director Kaufman and the delivery of the cast.

Hoffmann’s performance as Caden Cotard ranks highly as one of the performances of his career, and it’s a pity that his role in “Doubt” over-shadowed this during the Oscar season. The film is really a one-man show, but the performances from the supporting cast are equally impressive: Michelle Williams finally sinks her teeth into the weighty drama that she’s been skirting around for years, Morton and Watson manage to mirror each other well enough that, for them, Caden’s project is a success; and the always brilliant Dianne Wiest, although confined to the film’s last half hour, brings with her the confidence of a woman who’s been performing in the role for years.

To say any more about “Synecdoche, New York” would be a disservice to the film, not because it would spoil it, but simply because a film as multi-layered as this deserves to be seen and judged on its own merits before deciding which of the three camps above you want to pitch your tent in. And even if you consider it to be pretentious art, you can at least appreciate that nobody quite does it as well as Charlie Kaufman.

  1. morethinking
    May 16, 2009 at 6:39 AM

    Heard this film was a head splitter.

    I might check it out, but I don’t know how to prepare myself for it…is there a way of preparing oneself?

    • burnallzombies
      May 16, 2009 at 9:30 AM

      Only preparation I can think of is lots of coffee and watch “Eternal Sunshine.” Bring a notebook too, write down some of the names, and google them afterwards too…so many puns and in-jokes that are silly, but add a totally new layer to the film.

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