Friday, December 19, 2008

Movie Review: Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Writer (WGA): Charlie Kaufman

Philip Seymour Hoffman – Caden Cotard
Catherine Keener – Adele Lack
Michelle Williams – Claire Keen
Samantha Morton – Hazel
Jennifer Jason Leigh – Maria

I felt very fortunate to recently find myself with a free afternoon near an historic theater in Cambridge, MA that had a showing of Synecdoche, New York, directed by Charlie Kaufman, well known for his writing and production credits on films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich, among others, and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, who needs no introduction as one of the great actors of our time. I had only heard of this “strange” film through word of mouth and decided to do something I rarely ever do: I read a full review by Roger Ebert before I saw the film.

Maybe this isn’t alarming to some, to get an opinion or two before viewing a film, but I have always felt that seeing a movie and forming my own thoughts an important aspect to discovering what is and is not considered great to me. I will admit that I skim plot summaries of movies and view trailers, etc, to make sure I am somewhat interested in a film, but almost never do I read a full review with opinions that may influence my decision to see or not to see.
Here is a link to the review by Roger Ebert if you are interested:

Now that I’ve admitted to hearing someone else’s opinion of this film, I’d like to say that I still don’t really know what to say.

On the one hand, you have a film that has a plot and is not too difficult to follow. However, as you are watching and sort of understanding what is happening, you realize that you don’t quite get what is happening, and slowly you realize that you have no idea what is truly happening, even though you may think you think you know what may or may not be happening.

Yes, I just wrote the above and I stand by it.

Did I like this movie? Yes, I did. Can I explain why? I’m not sure. I think I said I like it because it feels very much like a real life in torment, and I am drawn to films that really attack human emotion and those that try to show through film ideas and notions that are nearly impossible to portray. But again, with that said, I’m not sure what to say about this “strange” film.

As Ebert writes in his review:

This has not been a conventional review. There is no need to name the characters, name the actors, assign adjectives to their acting. Look at who is in this cast. You know what I think of them. This film must not have seemed strange to them. It's what they do all day, especially waiting around for the director to make up his mind.

This is pretty good stuff. I could try to explain the basic plot: Hoffman’s character has a crappy life and the movie takes us through his tormented mind as he lives life and uses his own career as a theatre director to attempt to make sense of his suffering , or to at least organize it into something manageable. However, I don’t know if that is the correct interpretation. I almost decided not to write anything and just let this film live in my mind as I viewed it, as a piece of art that I am not quite sure I enjoyed, but I know I did not dislike. I don’t mind “crazy” movies. They don’t bother me like they do some, as long as I am willing to take the time to try and dissect what I am seeing and hearing, it can’t all be bad.

With this film I did feel like I was being asked to do a bit too much dissecting about the ¾ mark of the run time, though, and that did make me somewhat angry. Having characters playing characters who are watching themselves in a play as characters of their real selves is ok, I suppose, but then to make timelines incomprehensible and characters coming and going without explanations, or at least logical explanations, got to be just a bit much.

Ultimately I was glad I saw this film as it renews my belief that if people continue to make projects such as this they will eventually get them right, and we will all benefit from that.

8 or 9/10 (I think?)

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