Synecdoche, New York Charlie Kaufman

Synecdoche, New York Charlie Kaufman
The most gifted screenwriter of our generation has directed a colossal mess. Charlie Kaufman makes his directorial debut with Synecdoche, New York, about a theatre director who launches an ongoing play to mirror the failed relationships in his life.

As in Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Kaufman employs a doppelganger for his lead character, Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman), so that his hero can pinpoint his failings and rise above them. This time, however, the device fails. Though Caden faithfully reconstructs entire blocks of New York inside a giant warehouse, his play-within-a-play-within-a-movie uselessly repeats his surface behaviours and fails to mature his character.

Another fatal flaw is Caden himself. He starts the film as an apathetic lump then passively reacts to all that happens to him. His wife moves to Germany with her child. His second wife leaves him. Mysterious ailments plague his body. Deeply self-absorbed, Caden never initiates the action and hardly cares about anything.

Though Hoffman leads a superb cast that includes Catherine Keener and Michelle Williams as his wives, Samantha Morton and Emily Watson as his lovers, with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis and Dianne Wiest as acquaintances, their talents are sadly wasted.

So is Kaufman’s script, which lacks his typical wit and melancholy vision. Sure, there are moments of whimsy and surrealism, such as the burning house that his on/off lover, Hazal (Morton), lives in, but they aren’t enough to rescue a plodding and confusing story.

I suspect Synecdoche, New York will divide audiences between those who will embrace this film and others who’ll be disappointed. I wish I could embrace it. (Equinox)