Written By: Charlie Kaufman
Directed By: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan
My rating: 7/10
Charlie Kaufman, the most twisted, sincere, crazy, heartfelt writer in Hollywood is allowed to direct his own crazy vision. Good thing? Bad thing? I have to say I am a true believer in the role of the studio bigwigs in reining in directors and saving them from themselves. Give an auteur too much power and sometimes they go crazy and just make a load of drivel (see Woody Allen back catalogue from the past 15 years). Unfortunately, Synecdoche, New York is a prime example of this. It is a film so vast in it's thesis that it could only be pulled off with strict and delicate discipline. I really felt that Kaufman went a little bit haywire and destroyed his potentially profound masterpiece.
The story is about a theatre director, Caden Cotard (Hoffman) who decides to embark on a project which is based on his current life, a sort of ongoing play which twists and turns with his life. He casts actors as himself and as the women in his life. However, as life and the play begin to intertwine the play takes on a life of its own and the line between reality and fiction are crossed and crossed and crossed.
The concept of the film is wonderful, and brilliantly pulled off. The development of the story and the ease with which the craziness is created is really admirable. Every single actor in the film is wonderful and their characters are brilliant, particularly Samantha Morton as Caden's true love.
The main problem with the film is that Kaufman doesn't stick to a realistic craziness, he adds a few moments of magical weirdness which, to me, upsets the story and takes the audience out of the illusion of Caden's life-play. There's Hazel's house which is constantly on fire. Literally. Then there's Sammy, a mysterious man who follows Caden around from the start. His reasons, when they are revealed, are also a bit silly. Think how the second season of Twin Peaks got silly for the sake of silly, unlike the first season that gave the audience enough reality to stick with it. That's the feeling I got from this movie. When a plot is so outlandish, it needs to keep it's feet on the ground and I really think this was Kaufman's fatal flaw. This is where studio bigwigs may have actually been helpful for a change. I believe he was given too much creative control for such an immense project.
Negative aspects aside though, this is an amazing film in many ways. The scope of it, and the depth of it reaching unimaginable proportions. Just thinking about trying to put this film together is enough to make your head spin. Kudos must go to the entire cast and crew of this film for giving it socks in every way. Hoffman was his usual sad-sack self and really gave his character, em, character, if not likeability. Michelle Williams absolutely glows as the actress Caden falls for and the casting director gets serious slaps on the back for casting Emily Watson as Samantha Morton. They're identical, who knew??
This is a difficult film to recommend to people. It is his most challenging film to date, and unfortunately, his most pretentious.However, it is enjoyable and certainly profound. The end of the film pays off as it starts to get back to the heart of the characters and this is definitely where Kaufman prevails. Nobody does love like Charlie Kaufman. It's tragic, it's full of mistakes and regrets and it's all-consuming. See it if you feel like a challenge but beware, it's a tough one.
By Charlene Lydon 05/01/09