Thursday, 18 March 2010
Synecdoche, New York (Review)
Is a movie good because the rest are rubbish? When the regular stream of films offered by Hollywood feels so repetitive and cliché-ridden, does that give a left-of-field flick a golden chance to break through regardless of its quality?
That and many other questions were crossing my mind as the final credits of 'Synecdoche, New York', rolled up on my television screen. The brainchild of Charlie Kaufman, the writer behind cinematic gems such as 'Being John Malkovich', 'Adaptation' and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', 'Synecdoche' had a lot to live up to. The movie works in a similar way to the aforementioned ones, blending the mundane with the surreal. In this case we have hapless theatre director Caden Cotard's (played impeccably by Philip Seymour Hoffman) chasing the Holy Grail, his magnum opus: the play everyone will talk about. By chance he gets a MacArthur grant which enables him to hire a group of actors and actresses who will re-enact their own banal lives inside a gigantic warehouse. But Caden has his own problems and his life is far from dull. He and his wife have been distant for some time (hilarious and cracking scene at the counsellor's office), his health deteriorates rapidly and when his wife leaves him to begin a new life in Berlin, she takes their daughter with her, thus, plunging him into a crisis.
'Synecdoche' functions as a meta-representation of New York and modern society in general, with its neuroses and existential angst. The flaws, and in my opinion there're just a few, are self-inflicted. A movie like this, carrying so many metaphysical motifs in an already crammed plot, will either delight or disappoint audiences. At times I felt bombarded by symbols: the burning house Hazel (Caden's estranged girlfriend) purchases, the blurring of lines between dream and alert states, Adele's (Caden's ex-wife) miniature paintings. And at just over two hours long, I felt that the editor's shears should have come out more often.
But the main theme in 'Synecdoche', that of the play (a part) representing New York, or even the US (the whole), makes for compelling viewing. Caden, as the director intent on creating a piece full of gritty realism, is an example of artistic integrity, especially in our times, when mediocrity triumphs over uncompromising art so often. His medical condition, which makes his body shut down its basic functions gradually, raises questions about our lifestyle and its consequences. And the wordplay combining Schenectady, an actual place and the film title is a stroke of genius.
Coming out as it did in the same year 'RocknRolla' and 'Sex and the City' were also released, 'Synecdoche' is a bold cinematic step in the right direction for Charlie Kaufman, and I can't wait to see his next film. As for my two opening questions: not applicable on this occasion, but still relevant, I think.
Next Post: 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music', to be published on Sunday 21st March at 10am (GMT)