ONE HAS NOT truly suffered as a moviegoer until seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman perform a seizure in Synecdoche, New York. This freak-out has nothing to do with art and more to do with career promotion: Our cultural gatekeepers have rushed to crown ham-actor Hoffman King of the Ugly and Obvious Art Movie. And Charlie Kaufmans been dubbed a genius ever since he wrote the preternaturally clever gimmick movie Being John Malkovich. Now Kaufmans been commissioned to make his own weird directorial debut, starring the unctuous Hoffman as his latest disgusting alter ego. It is as close to an abomination as 2008 cinema needs to come. Entirely too cleverfilled with halfideasthis story about upstate New York theater director Caden Cotard (Hoffman) parades all of Kaufmans neuroses: sexual frustration, creative surfeit (not a creative block), body hatred and celebrity paranoia.
Whats missing is universality; thats swallowed up by Kaufmans intellectual egomania. Caden goes from re-staging Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman as a yuppies geriatric nightmare performed by twenty-somethings to mounting big-budget surrealistic art movies on a mammoth soundstage.
This advertises Kaufmans distance from Millers sentimentality while congratulating hipsters for their cynical whimsyand their ignorance of Fellinis 8 1/2. In Synedoche, Kaufman has been afforded a privilege he doesnt deserve; his unimaginative imagery never comes close to the magnificence that visionary director John Moore creates in the turbulent tableaux of Max Payne.
Kaufmans artiness ignores political realityfurther congratulating hipsters who prefer Todd Haynes–style narcissism to Todd Solondzs humane sociological explorations (Kaufman imitates both).This is exactly the overboard pomposity Kaufman threatened in his first scripts, Malkovich and Human Nature. Passing off egghead neurasthenia as genius, Kaufman makes Caden so convinced hes dying that in addition to seizures, he breaks out in sores.
Its even suggested that Cadens divorce from Catherine Keener is a projection of his own death wishlike the male/female, young/old doppelganger characters who hound and perplex him.When Kaufman delivers Cadens final, bleak message Everyone is everyone.Youre Ellen and all her meager sadnessI longed for the days when a Woody Allen character made a meager living selling meagers.
Pity those nerds and fashion-sheep who´ll waste time trying to connect Kaufmans symbols, cite the many David Lynch references and puzzle for ways to use synecdoche in daily conversation.
Also pity the very good actressesJennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson, Samantha Morton and Dianne Wiest who Kaufman convinced to appear dumpy and repulsive. They also had to work with Le Hoffman.
> Synecdoche, New York
Directed by Charlie Kaufman Running Time: 124