Synecdoche, New York
dir-scr Charlie Kaufman
with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Emily Watson, Tom Noonan, Sadie Goldstein, Robin Weigert, Josh Pais
release US 24.Oct.08, UK Oct.08 lff
08/US Kimmel 2h04
Synecdoche, New York
As time goes by: Morton and Hoffman

williams keener wiest

London film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Synecdoche, New York As a writer, Kaufman has used surrealism to humorously examine humanity. And now as a director he goes even further, creating something that feels like Woody Allen crossed with David Lynch. It's funny and emotional, but also impenetrable.

Caden (Hoffman) is a theatre director in Schenectady, New York, where he lives with his artist wife (Keener) and 4-year-old daughter (Goldstein) in typical suburban paranoia. Their fears are mainly health-based, reinforced constantly in the media. But Caden feels this is all meant just for him, and after being abandoned by his family, he uses an arts grant to stage a massive play that involves rebuilding New York in a warehouse and casting actors to play him (Noonan) and everyone in his life.

Kaufman is so fiendishly clever that he can't help but pack every line of dialog, every set and every camera angle with something witty and suggestive. Much of the film is laugh-out-loud hilarious, even when we're not quite sure why it's so funny. And the dialog is a flood of outrageous wordplay. The title itself is a complex word joke conflating the New York suburb with the film's central theme. A synecdoche is a figure of speech that uses a part to refer to a whole (as "tickle the ivories" refers to the entire piano).

In other words, Caden thinks the whole world revolves around him, and he's incapable of believing that anyone else has an outside life beyond their role in his own story. Hoffman plays this with remarkable wit and insight, adding tiny glances and movements that let us see into Caden's soul as he loses his grip on reality. As an actor, he also looks almost eerily comfortable as the make-up ages him over the years, bending his entire body to age.

And the women around him are terrific, most notably Morton, who injects a cheeky energy to her scenes; Wiest, who develops an odd role into something deeply moving; and Watson, whose hilarious entrance and developing role are thoroughly engaging. What's most remarkable is how these actors all bring emotional resonance to a film that's otherwise so cerebral, making the overall film both madly wacky and quietly sad at the same time. This feels like magic, really: even if we don't know what's going on, we can feel it.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 16.Oct.08 lff

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall