Movie Review: Synecdoche, New York (2008)


Title: Synecdoche, New York
Release Date: October 24, 2008
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Production Company: Sidney Kimmel Entertainment | Likely Story | Projective Testing Service | Russia Inc.
Summary/Review:

When you watch a Charlie Kaufman film, you know things are going to get weird.  This was the first film Kaufman directed as well as wrote after writing the screenplays for movies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Caden Cotard, a theater director whose life begins to crumble after his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) leaves him taking their young daughter.  Not only does Caden suffer various physical ailments but he becomes obsessed with staging a large-scale dramatic work inside a massive warehouse.

Caden isn’t a very appealing person but seems to attract the attention of a lot of attractive younger women (male writer’s fantasy?)  Hazel (Samantha Morton) is a woman who works and the theater and lives in a burning house who is attracted to Caden and becomes kind of a lifelong companion.  But Caden actually marries the actress Claire (Michelle Williams).  Then he hooks up with Tammy (Emily Watson), the actress playing Hazel. Finally, Ellen Bascomb (Dianne Wiest) takes over playing Caden and directing the play.

If that sounds confusing, the whole play becomes a simulacrum of Caden’s life with the actors and real life figures commenting on and interacting with the actors.  And yes, then they need to get actors to play the actors.  I get what Kaufman is doing here, reflecting on the meaning of life and mortality, but the film can get tedious and disturbing.  Then again life – and death – can be tedious and disturbing.  Roger Ebert recommended watching this movie multiple times.  Maybe I’ll return to this film, but I find on my first viewing of Synecdoche, New York that I veer between finding it profound and finding it pretentious.

Rating: ***1/2

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