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21 May 2009
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Synecdoche, New York (15)

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Review byMatthew Turner13/05/2009

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 124 mins

Engagingly surreal, if utterly impenetrable drama from Charlie Kaufman that is challenging, maddening, laugh out loud funny and deeply moving, all at the same time.

What's it all about?
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) takes his first stab at directing with Synecdoche, New York (pronounced sin-eck-doh-key), starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as theatre director Caden Cotard, who lives in Schenectady, New York with his artist wife, Adele (Catherine Keener) and their young daughter, Olive (Sadie Goldstein). Already a hypochondriac, Caden plunges into a deep depression when Adele leaves him and takes Olive to Paris, along with her best friend and possible lover, Maria (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

However, when Caden receives a 'genius' grant, his spirits are lifted and he uses the money to stage an enormous play about his life, rebuilding New York in a warehouse and casting a multitude of actors to play all the people in his life, including himself (Tom Noonan). He begins romances with both the flirty box-office girl (Samantha Morton) and his lead actress (Michelle Williams), but he can't shake his paranoia or his deep-seated loneliness.

The Good
Kaufman's script is absurdly clever throughout, echoing back themes and lines of dialogue to intriguing effect - indeed, the entire film could be seen as Kaufman's surreal version of Death of a Salesman, the play that Caden is directing as the film begins. As the surrealism builds to fever pitch (with warehouses within warehouses and characters played by multiple actors), it's best to give up trying to understand it and just go along for the ride.

The performances are superb - Hoffman anchors the film as the ultimate solipsist, while there's terrific support from Morton and a delightful Emily Watson, whose hilarious entrance is perhaps the film's most brilliant and surprising moment.

The Bad
To be fair, the film runs out of steam towards the end and is perhaps around twenty minutes too long.

Worth seeing?
Though undoubtedly complex and almost impossible to understand, Synecdoche, New York is still a rewarding, frequently hilarious and bracingly original drama that packs an unexpectedly powerful emotional punch. Recommended.

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Synecdoche, New York (15)
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