Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Synecdoche, New York: Grade C

Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Diane Wiest. Writer-Director Charlie Kaufman.

It’s a great list of scintillating stars, but really it is the Philip Seymour Hoffman show and a little bit of Samantha Morton. Keener is written out of the script after 20 minutes and the other stars have small parts. Hoffman is a depressed, hypochondriac director of “bluehair regional theater” in upstate New York. His acerbic wife (Keener), exhausted by his whining, leaves with their young daughter for Europe and never returns. The movie had sparkle and humor up to that point, but then just wanders. Implausibly, the morose director receives a McArthur Foundation “genius” award, so relieved of financial concerns he begins a monster production in a huge NYC warehouse, of a play he hasn’t written yet. He experiments with ad hoc scenes while years and even decades slip by. He dates one of the staff members (Morton) who lives in a house on fire, but that relationship doesn’t pan out. His incoherent play involves an old guy who plays him trying to mount a play while dating a staff member, and there are some surreal confusions of reality and theater, but they don’t mean anything. Unlike Willy Loman, the Director comes to no meaningful epiphany. Hoffman is a terrific actor, there is no question about that, and the supporting cast is flawless, but the characters don’t do anything or go anywhere, so after a while, there is nothing worth watching except the good acting and the writerly surreal bits that are exactly as relevant to the story as the title is to the movie.

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