Synecdoche, New York – Review

Weirdness for no other reason

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Director: Charlie Kaufman
Notable Cast:
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dianne West, Hope Davis, Emily Watson

Charlie Kaufman has never been one to think inside the box in his screenplays, being the creative genius behind Adaptation and Being John Malkovich as well as the Oscar winning screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but Synecdoche, New York represents a move from being great screenplays with some absurd weirdness in them to being weird for the sake of being weird. It’s easily the worst film to have his name attached to it, as well, which is a shame for his directorial debut.

SNY follows a successful playwright, Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman), as he directs his masterpiece over the span of his lifetime. The film follows Caden over the years, advancing at random intervals, and the various women in his life. His first wife is Adele (Catherine Keener), an artist who leaves him after a big gala showing in Europe with their daughter. His second wife is Claire (Michelle Williams), one of his actresses. A third is Hazel (Samantha Morton), the box office ticket taker with whom he never quite consummates the relationship with. His shrink (Hope Davis) sells her books to him more often than she gives him good advice.

The film seems to be Kaufman’s allegory of a man unable to love anyone, unable to feel anything but pain, and the massive play he funds is a representation of his life and his problems. It seemingly is a play with a movie about a play, as he hires actors to play himself directing it while directing his doppelganger on how to direct the play. Hiring actors to play his assistants, his ex-wives and using the play itself to explore the neurotic behavior he engages in, the film is about a man exploring the facets of his life while being unable to understand any part of them.

And while the concept seems to be a bit odd, even for an art house film written by Charlie Kaufman, the film is an experiment in weirdness that some will claim as brilliant. It’s not, as it’s just weird for the sake of. None of what Kaufman tries to do, from fast-forwarding the story to replaying moments of his life in the play itself, makes for interesting entertainment. It’s weirdness for the sake of being weird, not because it serves the story in any capacity. It’s a story but doesn’t have any cohesiveness to it, moving forward and confusing itself (and the viewer) throughout.

It obscures the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who contributes another top notch performance in a series of them since his Oscar winning turn in Capote. In terms of consistency there aren’t a handful of actors who are as good as he is, as there isn’t a bad Hoffman performance, and while this doesn’t rival Capote or Charlie Wilson’s War it’s in the same category. Caden may be a man who is so detached from everything that he needs to relive it to try and find the meaning, observing it third and fourth hand, but Hoffman gives him a sense of purpose that Kaufman does not.

Synecdoche, New York is a weird film that isn’t very good, going for weird when a better story would’ve been appreciated.


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