Friday, May 15, 2009

Synecdoche Huh?

I've just realised that I never wrote up my thoughts on Synecdoche New York, which I saw in Austin last October, followed by a live Q&A with Charlie Kaufman. Gad, what a movie. Most reviews of it I've seen have been positive: I can only say that I hated it.

Kaufman is a brilliant screenwriter with a head-full of ideas most of us would kill for. But he should never, ever have been allowed to direct a movie based on one of his own scripts. It's like taking a drug that's fine in small doses and necking a huge bottle of it - the only possible result is a mind-fuck and so it is with this movie.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Philip Seymour Hoffman's character Caden Cotard, who lives in a hypochondriac, depressed-to-the-point-of paralysis state with his artist wife Adele (Catherine Keener) and their small daughter. He's a theatre director who's putting on a rather awful version of Death of a Salesman and is tempted by both the box-office attendant Samantha Morton and Michelle Williams, who plays the over-dramatic leading lady. Caden's wife leaves to go to Europe and put on an exhibition - and never comes back. Meanwhile, he embarks on a mammoth, experimental theatre production which mimics his own life and the edges between reality and fiction begin to blur...

You're probably thinking that it sounds pretentious - all I can say is that you have no idea what an understatement that is. Judging by the Q&A in Austin, most of the audience there were totally baffled by what they had just seen - and yet strangely unmoved by it as well. In the hands of someone like Spike Jonze it might just have worked, but Kaufman seems unable to control his own story and the latter half in particular drags badly before drawing to an unsatisfactory close. My advice? Save your money and rent Being John Malkovich again.

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