Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Genre: Drama
Format: Blu-ray
Director: Charlie Kaufman

Synecdoche, New York proves that Charlie Kaufman's writing alone would have made Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, or The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a success and that the directors for those movies, though accomplished as they are (Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry), had little to do with why those movies worked so well. With Synecdoche, Kaufman takes on the role of the director and the screenwriter: The impact of that combination produces one heck of a masterpiece.

Basically, the movie is about a theater director, Caden Cotard, who seems to be experiencing some health issues. He lives with an unhappy wife and a hyper-active daughter. The film follows his daily interactions with his family and the other women in his life. To reveal any more plot details will rob you of the pleasure of discovering how magnificent this movie truly is. At the beginning, the movie seems to be more of a goofy comedy with the usual Kaufman trappings of unconventional wits in the dialogues and some shocking situations but you will later discover that this film is a boundless investigation into extreme existentialism, which is Kaufman's favorite subject matter. The last half hour of the movie is very painful and hard to watch but it is also, ultimately, very honest. The ideas about life and death presented here are depressingly bleak but if everyone in this world appreciates life as much as Kaufman does, it would have been a much better place for all of us to live in. Once the discussion of "the double" and the question of individuality arrive on screen, get ready for the full assault.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic as the theater director and I have never seen Catherine Keener looked so raw and messed-up. She reminds me of how Cameron Diaz looked in Being John Malkovich. The rest of the cast are also engaging and they give the movie their all in what must have been an emotionally traumatic experience for each of them. Synecdoche is a brave film that is not only meaningful, but it is also made with the best of intentions. Kaufman is a beautiful human being who understands the nature of what makes us human. He's always been good about telling it as it is. Now he has proven to us that he can show it as it is too. A sublime directorial debut. Synecdoche, New York is one of my top 5 greatest movies of all time.

RATING: 5 out of 5

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