13 November 2008

Synecdoche, New York A Real Place, Not Really, Yes It Is, No You're Not, We Are Three

Dateline Synecdoche, New York. Have you ever wished on a star? Carried moonbeams home in a jar? Or do you want to be a fish?

I saw Synecdoche, New York the film today. Wait, it was a movie, wasn't it? Whatever it was answers the question: What would happen if weirdo screenwriter Charlie Kaufman directed a movie? The answer to that questions: something completely different.

You've got to know that the brain that brought us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2002), Adaptation (2002) and Being John Malkovich (1999) would come up with something that, like it or not, is for the ages.

I read Roger Ebert and New York Times critic Manohla Dargis' reviews. They prove one thing: if you truly appreciate this movie you can't fashion a straight forward review of it. I believe they'd be the first to admit it.

So let's see...Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as a theater director married to an artist played by Catherine Kenner. As the movie begins time is moving by leaps and bounds. Weeks pass as Hofmann's character eats breakfast. Also he is coming down with all manner of ailments and...See this won't do at all. I mean once I mention that Hoffman appears in the cartoon his daughter is watching on TV or that Samantha Morton's character buys a house that's on fire... Yeah, forget it.

Remember this: If you're going to see it once and you like it you'll be needing to see it again. There's a lot to sort out and decipher. I only began the process in my virgin viewing (what was the deal with the four year old author of a book about a neo Nazi?).

Synecdoche, New York is a film that requires a bit of effort. This is not a John Ford cavalry movie. Such a film experience can be off putting for a lot of people. We like to sit down and be told a story. No muss no fuss. A bit of symbolism is one thing. Wall-to-wall symbolism is quite another. And by the way, are some parts just plain silly or does everything in this movie mean something?

It took me awhile to realize that I really liked (wow that seems a terribly pedestrian word for such an unconventional film) Synecdoche, New York. In the course of watching the movie I was figuratively pushed, shoved and jostled. I was made pleasantly uncomfortable. I was delightfully flummoxed. I was blissfully baffled. I was poignantly perplexed.

I was reminded of just how damn many ways there are to make movies.

Ostensibly we’ve got the story of an artist aspiring to some sort of immortality. Someone who’s creative juices blend with his real life for a powerful cocktail. We’ve got the lines between reality and fiction blurred. At least those are a few ways of looking at the film. You’ll find several dozen others I’m sure.

Kaufman the writer has found in Kaufman the director someone best able to tell his stories. He was aided by a wonderful cast that in addition to Hoffman, Keener and Morton included Hope Davis, Diane Weist, Tom Noonan, Michelle Williams and oh my God I didn't even notice that was Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Or would you rather be a mule?

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