Synecdoche, New York

"Weak"

Synecdoche, New York Review


If it weren't for Charlie Kaufman, the phrase "famous screenwriter" would be an oxymoron. Kaufman has never won an Oscar, and most people, even true movie geeks, probably couldn't pick him out of a police lineup, but he's the only writer in Hollywood whose name is used to promote his movies. From Being John Malkovich and Adaptation to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, each of Kaufman's movies is a singular experience -- quirky, affecting, and humorous. Kaufman's renown as a screenwriter even surpasses that of Quentin Tarantino's back in the mid-nineties, when he penned a string of critical and box-office hits that included Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, and Pulp Fiction. Tarantino's real acclaim, however, came as a result of his work behind the camera, not the keyboard. So it's no surprise to find Kaufman making the same transition in Synecdoche, New York -- his debut film as a director.

Synecdoche (sih-NECK-doh-kee) is a word whose meaning is too long to type out here -- and isn't essential to understanding the film, anyway. But it's just the type of word you might throw in the title of your first movie as a director if you wanted to let people know in advance they're in for something offbeat. And Synecdoche, New York is nothing if not determinedly offbeat.

It starts out like a strange little domestic drama. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays the role of Caden Cotard, a frumpy, unhappy community theater director who's convinced he's dying. Indeed, one minute he's expelling rust-colored urine and the next minute ugly pustules are sprouting on his face and legs. His wife, Adele (Catherine Keener), isn't too concerned, though. She's on her own trip. She makes tiny paintings that one must look at through a magnifying glass to see clearly. During the first good stretch of Synecdoche, New York, one gets the feeling that the movie's central drama will play out in Caden and Adele's cramped upstate New York home. But that sense proves wrong.

Synecdoche, New York's ambitions go far beyond a suburban living room. This is a movie that wants to contain all of life, everything. If that sounds impossible, you're right. It is. But that doesn't stop Kaufman from trying to cram it all inside.

As fast as you can say auf wiedersehen, Adele leaves Caden and moves to Germany, taking Olive, their daughter, with her. At this point Caden begins an affair with the box-office girl (Samantha Morton) who works at the theater showing his play, and who happens to live in a house that's always on fire -- literally. Soon after that, Caden wins a MacArthur "genius" grant (betcha didn't see that coming!) and begins work on a play that grows as big as Manhattan -- once again, literally. And so it goes, with characters dying terrible deaths and others reappearing after long absences, with wild changes in circumstance and unheralded shifts in tone, characters falling in and out of love and other characters disappearing never to be seen again. It all adds up to something in the end, but by that time, it's impossible to care.

Kaufman wants his movie to matter. He wants it to mean more than the average film, even more than the average good film. Perhaps he should be applauded for his immodest ambitions. After all, it's not many movies these days that try to chart new territory. But his film doesn't make good on its aims. It plays more like a catalog of anxieties and catastrophes than a movie. Kaufman creates a world where love and human connection are impossible, and in the absence of hope and joy, there are no are no outcomes to root for and no tragedies to despair.

Synecdoche, New York is an unapologetically intellectual film, but one that's aloof and emotionally distant, as if Kaufman were looking at his characters through the wrong end of a telescope and could only see their pain. Kaufman is no doubt a talented writer. Someday he may even be a great director. But Synecdoche, New York doesn't work as it's supposed to. It sets out to encompass all of what makes us human but only finds room for what makes us unhappy.

The real party's always on the balcony.



Synecdoche, New York

Facts and Figures

Run time: 124 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 5th February 2009

Box Office USA: $3.0M

Budget: $21M

Distributed by: Sydney Kimmel Entertainment

Production compaines: Likely Story

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Fresh: 123 Rotten: 57

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Caden Cotard, as Hazel, as Maria, as Claire Keen, as Adele Lack, as Tammy, as Sammy Barnathan, Sadie Goldstein as Olive (4 years old), as Madeleine Gravis, as Ellen Bascomb / Millicent Weems, Kristen Bush as Actress Playing Claire, as Actress Playing Frances

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

At just 27 years old, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has an almost overwhelming set of...

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

Advertisement
The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.