Charlie Kaufman is back in his most ambitious, intriguing, bizarre, and out there script yet and at the helm he creates a thought provoking piece of work, that demands a second viewing.
Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a successful play director, with a bit of a strained marriage to his wife Adele (Catherine Keener), as he plods through life and marriage counseling with little happiness and a sad demeanor. After successfully opening his “young” version of the Death of a Salesman he is awarded a grant to create something amazing and original, in which Caden begins investing his thoughts and time into coming up with his spectacular idea. Getting in the way of all of this is his fear of death and medical sickness and a quickly degenerating marriage, and before we know it, Caden is renting out a giant warehouse to begin rehearsing his play.
I will share no more, as with any Kaufman film less is definitely more, and encourage that if you have any interest in the film that you stop reading now and just experience it as fresh as possible.
Are you back, did you ever leave? Well regardless, lets being again. If you didn’t leave, I am still not going to spoil, but the film itself is an incredibly complex and mind boggling affair at times. Precise and random all at once, I don’t know if there has ever been a film quite like this. With no real plot, and like Caden, we don’t know where it is going to end, but we get to experience this constantly evolving world full of humor, insanity, sadness, and love; and Kaufman is cable of rolling them all together at once, it is just astonishing. The film starts off fairly conventional in structure, an odd joke or reference here or there, but everything starts easy to follow. But as Caden’s life spins more and more out of his control, and as he builds his play bigger and bigger, the film becomes more and more engaging and puzzling all at once.
Caden’s play world and real world becomes slowly blended and blurred as they inspire and spill into one another, and it is hard to keep track of everyone and their role in everything. But that is beside the point, as the play is a red herring and doesn’t really matter, it is Caden’s search for meaning, love, truth, and direction in his life that is the goal of this picture; and you might even be left guessing if he got any of those things in the end.
The work by Kaufman is just fantastic in the way that he has created something that is so layered and intricate that it is amazing that he is able to keep track of it all. The actors are playing real people, playing themselves, recreating someone else’s recreation of their life, it is just a seemingly winding mess, that somehow makes sense to us. I am astonished at the depth of the picture, and can’t wait to dig deeper and deeper into the world on subsequent viewings.
The cast is vast in this film as well, with quality work all around, but there are some real standouts along the way. Michelle Williams swoons us as one of Caden’s two staples in his troupe and handles one of the more challenging roles of having to play a character of her character in the film, inside Caden’s play. Tom Noonan plays the brilliant character of Sammy, and all you need to know is he is great, as I don’t want to spoil his role in the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh is fantastic in her brevity as Adele’s sister, as is Sadie Goldstein as the sweet daughter of Caden, Olive. Samantha Morton deserves accolades for her dual (or is it a triple) turn as Hazel, [edit: so I was way off, Emily Watson, who looks a lot like Samantha Morton plays the actress playing Hazel, Morton doesn't play them both, confused yet? Watson is great though too!] taking on many faces and hats throughout the picture. Hope Davis also steals away her scenes and made me wish for more, as I love me some Hope Davis. Lastly there is Philip Seymour Hoffman who shines from start to finish as Caden. He is just phenomenal in this picture, the subtlety and nuances he brings to the mostly reserved Caden adds so much to the character, creating a man that is as deep and layered as the film, while constantly engaging and thought provoking. This might be my favorite turn yet by him, and that is certainly saying something from someone who has adored him since Boogie Nights.
In the end, Synecdoche, New York is a wildly engaging, entertaining, bizarre, and fascinating character study that can not be grasped in one viewing. Only going to grow over time, this film is a marvel to experience and one of the most powerful and thought provoking films of the year. Definitely not for everyone, but if you are a fan of any of his other work (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) you owe it to yourself to see this picture. And if you haven’t seen any of these movies and are a bit confused by this all, rent one of the films I listed above as they serve as a gateway to the mind of Charlie Kaufman. Then experience this film and wonder like the rest of us fans; where is he going to take us next?
P.S. If you are curious as to how much I love Kaufman, this is currently my least favorite film by him that I have seen; yeah, go rent some Kaufman.