If there could be awards for excess, overwrought drama, and bloated filmmaking, Synecdoche, New York would be the runaway winner.
The remarkably talented Charlie Kaufman has made a remarkably self-indulgent and extremely muddled film that plays off his fears, concerns, and foibles.Isn’t this what therapy is for, to work out these issues in the privacy of an office, instead of screening this crap before an audience of paying filmgoers.
Perhaps the joke is really on us, as we watch Philip Seymour Hoffman’s self-tortured Caden Cotard age before us, never really dying, never really certain of his art, never really sure he is reaching his goals, let alone aspiring towards them. His numerous maladies and illnesses both fester and linger, and then seemingly disappear, only to be replaced by a new disease or problem.
There are about 10 good minutes in this film, and those are at the top, when Catherine Keener is featured.Keener yet again shows remarkable range and presence, playing an angry and isolated artist/wife to Hoffman’s theatrical director.Her comic treatment of everyday life and manner are chillingly revealing, the kind of thing that begets suppressed laughter, and a bit of amazement.It should be no surprise to any viewer of this film that she makes the choice she does, and it would be good advice for anyone who has not yet seen this film to follow Keener, and leave the theater, and not return.
Even with an intriguing concept and a remarkable cast (Michele Williams, Samantha Morton, Jennifer Jason Leigh), Kaufman fails to deliver on the basics.The story just goes on without firm plot or story.There is no sense of being with the film.Occasionally characters will tell us how far in time we have advanced, but even then that is never clear.And eventually, it’s hard to distinguish between the film, and the play within the film that Hoffman’s character has created, and sustained, for dozens of years in a surrealistic New York City set. A better title would be lost, for that is not only what Hoffman is in this film, but it's what we become in the audience within moments of the lights going down.
Not all that is created by sharp minds should be accepted.Synecdoche, New York provides us with a literal illustration.From the wordplay on the title and the city in which the opening scenes are played, it’s evident that Kaufman enjoys teasing and cloying the audience.What is not so evident is how unwieldy this film is, how tortured the performances are, and how this can really only be a film seen and critiqued by and among actors.
Perhaps Kaufman wanted to return to basics, after his recent successful screenplays and adaptations.After Synecdoche, New York, it would be difficult for any studio to provide him with the freedom to make a film of his choosing, on his terms.With this film, we can plainly see what nonsense comes from that.