Catherine Keener and Phillip Seymour Hoffman help create one of the year’s best.
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Michelle Williams and Hope Davis. An Equinoxe Films release. 124 minutes. Opens Friday (November 7). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNNN
When it premiered at Cannes earlier this year, Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York instantly became the most divisive film of the festival. People absolutely loved it or hated it.
At Toronto, reactions were equally polarized, and it's been the same everywhere else. Just a couple of weeks ago, Rex Reed - that bastion of critical acuity - dubbed Synecdoche the worst movie ever made. I eagerly await Larry King's assessment.
Me, I'm on the "absolutely loved it" side. Kaufman's directorial debut is as conceptually daring and narratively complex as his screenplays for Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Elements of all three films can be spotted in this one, but with his own hand on the joystick Kaufman burrows further into his idiosyncratic world than ever before.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a struggling Schenectady theatre director (his idea of innovation is casting young actors in the leads in a production of Death Of A Salesman) who spends most of his time obsessing about the state of his health and watching his marriage crumble.
When a MacArthur "genius grant" lands on his doorstep, he decides to launch the most important theatrical project of his career, or anyone else's. He builds a replica of his home and workplace in a Manhattan warehouse and hires actors to play the people in his life. As the production expands, so does the warehouse, and in the last third of the film Kaufman leaves conventional narrative behind entirely, taking his film into genuine surrealism without sacrificing a powerful emotional kick.
Though Kaufman is viewed as an intellectual gamesman, his scripts have never been afraid to tackle real pain. Being John Malkovich has a pretty horrific ending, and Eternal Sunshine is one of the most devastating love stories of this decade. Even Adaptation is ultimately about love and death.
Synecdoche goes right for the same dark territory, but it sneaks up on you. At first, it seems to be about nothing more than its own belly button, but as the details pile up and the narrative gains momentum, it's possible to see what Kaufman has in mind, and it's a stunner.
This is one of the year's best movies.