Synecdoche, New York
Review by Jack Foley
HAVING been a massive fan of Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays for the films Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation, I’d approached his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York with high hopes.
Sadly, the film is one of the most pretentious and impenetrable films I’ve seen in a long time, despite the presence of a strong ensemble cast and some typically thought-provoking ideas.
The film follows the fortunes of Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an uptight theatre director who finds his life beginning to unravel while he is trying to produce a version of Death of a Salesman using young actors.
Suffering from various physical ailments, Caden is depressed, self-centred and feels alienated from his wife Adele (Catherine Keener). He’s also having an unconsummated affair with Hazel (Samantha Morton), the woman who works in the box office.
But then, in quick succession, Adele leaves him, taking the kids, and he unexpectedly receives a MacArthur genius grant. Life’s ups and downs seldom seem so pronounced…
Kaufman’s film has its moments and is overloaded with motifs. It’s meta-referential, in that it portrays a play within a play, and also examines Jungian psychology and the eternal quest to find meaning in life.
But his characters lack much sympathy and struggle to connect with audiences because of Kaufman’s decision to blur the line between reality and fiction so much.
There’s a sense that the film is too clever for its own good and that you’re somehow less intelligent for not keeping up.
Kaufman, as a director, employs some intriguing visual gimmicks (especially late on) and makes the most of his cast. But the film lacks much heart and may irritate more viewers than it inspires given the amount of work they’re required to do to keep up with it.
The answers do come, but even then require further deliberation, making this a very exhausting cinematic experience indeed. I’m all for intelligent, thought-provoking filmmaking, but it has to connect on some emotional level.
Synecdoche, New York, for all its ambition, forgets to really grab the viewer on a basic enjoyment level. It angers, frustrates and ultimately loses your interest. Its musings are therefore lost.
Running time: 2hrs 4mins
UK DVD Release: October 12, 2009