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SYNECDOCHE NEW YORK, 2008
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SYNECDOCHE NEW YORK
Movie Review
Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Tom Noonan, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis
Review by Eli Manning



SYNOPSIS:

A theater director struggles with his work, and the women in his life, as he attempts to create a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse as part of his new play.

REVIEW:

Charlie Kaufman has created an interesting body of work (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). It's all about creating a reality based world that parallel's the main character's own fantasy/sub-conscious. Then the fantasy joins that reality and we the audience have to figure out what is which.

Kaufman also brings up universal themes that people at every corner of the world think about: boy meets girl romance, legacy, wasting your life, death, why are we here?, and why do we worry so much about the little things and then forget to do the big things -- then next thing you know 5-50 years have gone by.

In many ways, all of his films are the same. And there's no one else in the world who is creating a similar body of work. This website has a monthly reading series that showcases the best new screenwriting works in the world. The moderator of last week's event was comparing the screenplays that were being read with other successful films of the past. It's something we all do in life. We see something and compare it to something similar that we've seen before. In Charlie Kaufman's films, there's nothing else to compare it with, especially Synecdoche New York! This is a film that's completely unique in style and substance even though its themes are common and have been done many times before.

This time Charlie Kaufman decided (or others decided for him) to direct his own screenplay in Synecdoche New York. It's an interesting self-choice which payoffs in the end of the film to why he actually did just that. By directing his own work, Kaufman sticks to the screenplay's tone almost to a fault as it takes an average audience member about 40 minutes to completely understand what the heck is going on! That's because he films the world inside of his own head that's completely original, instead of setting up a universal directorial structure to emotionally involve the audience.

If you look at Being John Malkovich and/or Adaptation, films directed by Spike Jonze, it's the editing that sets up the dark humor and it's shooting style form from the main character to it's supporting players are also completely different. Those films are all about the insecurity of love, in yourself and expressing it to others. Two films that are legendary in the Hollywood ranks because they were both in post-production for almost two years and focus grouped by people on the street dozens of times in order for them to truly understand what the audiences were thinking. They were Kaufman screenplays, so you had to make them because of its genius. But the problems came to when they were editing them and making sure the audience was involved.

Then Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the film that's closer in premise to Synecdoche New York than the others, was directed by a gifted cinematic visualist in Michel Gondry. This is a film, like Synecdoche New York, that takes you in and out of the main character's inner conscious and soul. So much so, you don't know what's reality and what's fantasy (of course, to Kaufman, both are the same. Reality is fantasy and fantasy is reality). Gondry uses the cinematic canvas to take the viewer inside and outside of the soul of the character's. Then, we the audience feel an intense emotional response because we relate so much to the feelings that are being portrayed on screen.

Kaufman in inside of his head more than Gondry or Jonze. So therefore when he directs, he makes the audience work a little harder to obtain the emotional experience. Therefore, some will feel even more profound because they have worked to get there, as others will feel cheated by the film because this is not what watching a film is suppose to be about.

Synecdoche New York is like going to a restaurant but cooking your own food. For a lot of us, when we cook our own meal and eat it, it's better than any meal made by someone else because its our own -- we created it. As others don't ever want to step foot in the kitchen and want to eat the meal cooked by others all the time. In many ways, we create the emotional experience ourselves in Synecdoche New York instead of having the filmmaker do it for us.

So the bottomline is, many of us will think Synecdoche New York is a pretentious piece of crap or the greatest cinematic experience of their life. This film is the reason the word polarizing was invented.

For this reviewer, I think it's a masterpiece, but I am also aware of the fact that it will alienate many. Which bring us to the art and commerce debate and what movies are really suppose to be made for. And that is a whole other column.

Kaufman hands over the keys to the actors in this film and let's them figure out their own performances. As someone who's been on many a film set with many of these actors, I know that they are all premise performers. Meaning that someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman understands how to build the structure of his own performance and doesn't need any help. Many actors need a director to help them out with their structural beats of each scene as they have the premise down, but don't know where to go at each moment. For a director, actors like Hoffman are the type of actors you want to work with. One less thing to worry about. All in all, this is definitely a landmark film because there's nothing to compare it to. Hollywood in many ways is a copycat business (as all of them are). They will take the genius of a certain piece and throw away the rest. But sometimes that's like taking the heart of a person without taking the brain. Because both of them need each other. In Kaufman's films, there is so much essence and originality, you either have to take all of it or none of it.

So if you're interested in seeing a completely new way of how to make a film (with non-original themes), then go see Synecdoche New York. Otherwise, go see whatever else Hollywood is bringing out at the cinema because Synecdoche New York might not be your cup of tea.

3 1/2 stars out of 4! center>

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