Film Review: Synecdoche, New York

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Sam Bathe on 12 May 2009

Making his long awaited directorial debut, Charlie Kaufman, writer and executive producer of Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, has picked a meteoric project for his first feature. Written by Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York was first touted as the next film for friend Spike Jonze before the American instead chose to work on the upcoming Where The Wild Things Are, the opportunity fell in Kaufman’s hands, and he grabbed it in an instant.

Synecdoche, New York focuses on theatre director Caden Cotard (Hoffman). Left by his wife as she, daughter-in-hand, pursues her art in Berlin, Cotard plunges his time and effort into a new theatre project to define his life’s work. Awarded a MacArthur genius grant, with a limitless budget Cotard recreates a life-sized model of New York with actors playing out scenes in real time, as what soon becomes a second edit of real life, incorporates his own day to day experiences for a brutally honest, and mostly saddening production that seems never to reach completion.

The first thing that stands out from Synecdoche, New York is the remarkable screenplay. While a lot is asked of Kaufman’s vision as a director, to somehow make sense of such an expansive and non-linear plot, deserves great praise. His directorial debut is a remarkably deep and rich film, somewhat daunting upon first showing, challenging the audience to take in this complex movie.

As Synecdoche, New York explores the trials and tribulations of Cotard’s mostly miserable life, Hoffman’s performance as the troubled genius perfectly fits the role. Alongside Samantha Morton as his assistant and on-off love, the pair turn in remarkable scenes, oozing real emotion as they grow old on the set of the play.

For such an ambitious picture, Synecdoche, New York was likely to hit a couple of snag along the way, and given the narrative’s stuttering development, the film doesn’t flow as you would like towards the conclusion, and even at two hours, you might find yourself checking your watch a couple of times before the end.

Requiring at least a couple of views to really understand and take in the sheer brilliance on show, Synecdoche, New York certainly isn’t a film for the general movie going public on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or Friday night date, but had Kaufman made it more accessible, it would have lost its artistic flair and the sheer conceptuality that has garnered awards the world over.


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