MOVIE REVIEW: Synecdoche, New York


On Christmas Day, the wife and I left the daughter in the capable hands of the parents-in-law and traversed to the Spectrum Theatre in Albany to see Synecdoche, New York.

There were four basic reasons I wanted to see this film:
4) Roger Ebert gave it a four-star review.
3) I have liked some of the movies Charlie Kauffman has written, such as “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”; “Adaptation”, not so much. This was Kauffman’s directoral debut.
2) It has a stellar cast, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, and Hope Davis.
1) The movie’s first setting is in Schenectady, New York, where I lived for 20 months before moving to nearby Albany. (An interesting piece on Schenectady and the title word here.)

Early on, I’m loving this film. It’s a dark comedy that pegs Schenectady in the first song, in the architecture. I found a particular imagery of a house on fire hysterically funny. I laughed out loud more than once. It is wonderfully performed. Yet somewhere in the theatrical remaking of the life of Caden (Hoffman), it just unraveled for me, as too long, too unfocused.

Here’s a cheat: I’m going to quote from various Rotten Tomatoes reviews, both positive (63%) and negative, that reflect as well as anything how I was feeling.

POSITIVE
Charlie Kaufman’s latest example of screenplay extrapolation begins with an obscure definitional allusion…and ends in some sort of self-referential apocalypse. – Bill Gibron

It is a portrait of disappointment and melancholy, tickled by bits of wit, that defies logic and resists description. – Duane Dudek

For about two-thirds of its length, this is an extremely funny if extraordinarily dark comedy… But we begin to measure out the time in teaspoons, and the movie becomes banal and morose. – John Beifuss

You could quite possibly be enthralled — or not. – Pete Hammond

NEGATIVE
This makes the film interesting in concept but disappointing in execution. And surreal touches added throughout that just do not add up to anything but a film more challenging than rewarding. – Mark R. Leeper

It’s all crazy enough to work for a while, but the 124 long minutes don’t pass soon enough. – Jeffrey M. Anderson

…a picture that is (a) brilliant, in scattered parts, but also (b) a reminder that virtually every writer needs an editor. – Kurt Loder

For a film that desperately wants us to empathize with its main character’s plight, Kaufman’s inability to reconcile his overambitious gimmickry with the story’s emotional demands is a fatal flaw. – Jurgen Fauth

Watching the film is also wearying, like assembling a puzzle from a box into which a sadist continually pours new pieces. – Lawrence Toppman

More than one critic compared it, unfavorably, to Fellini’s “8 1/2”.

Ultimately, the line that described it best for me is this technically positive review by Philip Martin: “An impossible, bewildering and brave failure of a movie …”

I would not say, “Don’t see it.” You may enjoy it, “get” it more than I did. Or not.

ROG