A heroic cinematic character somehow steps from the silver screen and into the arms of a downcast female fan..
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For once, a review about a movie that cost more than £1 (it was in fact £1.50) this surprising movie from the master that is Woody Allen should really be ranked alongside his more well-known movies due to the quality it possesses. The likes of “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan” and even “Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex (But were too afraid to ask)” are classics within their own right (the latter of which for just comic genius, especially the giant tit sketch) and this movie certainly ranks up alongside those chosen few. With an early appearance by Daniels, an actor who I continuously rank as one of this finest of his generation, in the lead role as well as a surprisingly effective performance by Mia Farrow, The Purple Rose of Cairo is one such film which does not fail in raising a smile on the faces of those who view it.
The premise of the film seems very similar to that epitome of nonsense that is “The Last Action Hero”, but is directed here by a cinematic legend and not the guy who directed “Die Hard”. Set during Depression hit America, the 1930’s more-harrowing one and not today’s, Cecilia (Farrow) is not exactly your typical heroic character. Working in a cheap-rate diner for a nickel an hour and married to a gorilla disguised as a human being named Monk (Aiello), her only respite from this delightful (in the same way in which drinking your own piss can be described as) existence is the cinema. The silver screen is a world away from her own, with the affluent individuals leading a life only she can dream of. And the one person she finds watching which in turn calms her nerves and thoughts about life is a character named Tom Baxter (Daniels) appearing in a movie called “The Purple Rose of Cairo”. Your typical B-List movie, Cecilia does not care as she gives in to his boyish good looks and shiny white smile and simply loses herself. Attending the movie for what seems the tenth time, Tom one day does something which had not been seen before and actually looks back at Cecilia. Stepping out from behind the cinema screen and walking towards Cecilia, he declares his love for her. Starstruck she may be, Cecilia is extremely flattered by what she is experiencing and soon finds the real Tom Baxter, aka Gil Shepherd who plays Tom on the big screen, pursing her affections so that Tom can do the honourable thing and step back into the picture. But, what with his newfound love for Cecilia, will Tom do this?
The 1980’s were not the kindest of years for Woody. With the exception of “Hannah and her Sisters” his films found themselves being rubbished by critics across the board. This one, however, did not receive the blunt end of the critical sword and was in fact praised. And who can blame them? The storyline is something which had not been done before, and is quite ingenious. Who else could have thought of a character from the silver screen leaving his manufactured world and entering the real one? Only Woody, that’s for sure. It is a well-known fact that Woody is a cinephile and always references classic films made around the time in which this picture was made; “Casablanca” for example acting as a basis for his 1972 movie “Play It Again, Sam” with an imaginary Bogie as the lead characters spiritual guide. Here, he uses the character stereotypes associated with films released just after the Depression and turns them on their head by adding a modern spin; Tom Baxter visiting a brothel whilst in search of Cecilia being a prime example. That’s what Woody does so well in his films; post-modernist scripts with more than a touch of his own interpretation of personal influence that, in more cases than not, results in an entertaining movie which gives further credibility to one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema.
As for his cast, they will always be in the shadow of Woody Allen but here all involved are surprisingly good. Jeff Daniels, perhaps the finest actor of his generation, gives an early performance here which highlights both his serious and comedic traits as an actor. To a lesser talented actor, such as Michael Keaton, such a feat could not be achieved but here you have proof that what lied in future for Daniels was even-better roles with this two-part performance best demonstrating a talent which is still at work. Mia Farrow on the other hand is someone whose talent seemed lacking. I admit to not having seen all of her films, but in the roles prior to this I always found myself reaching for the remote. This was not done here, as her pathetic look of always relying on others for admiration seems apt for Cecilia. Her character really is a loser and dimwit, and Mia’s personality seems to match that of Cecilia. A whimsical flower she might be, the emotional pull she has for both Tom and Gil is quite impressive, and despite being a movie you could honestly believe she was torn between the two in reality.
After hearing of this film acting as a prime example of Allen’s best work of the 1980’s, I took it upon myself to try and track this film down. Impressed by the comedy which keeps true to that shown in “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall” this sure is one hell of a film and by all means a classic.