Synecdoche, New York: What a Bummer

Whoah. Okaaaaaaay. I think we suspected all along that Charlie Kaufman—like most undisputed geniuses—has problems, but, um, yo. Dude has PAH-ROB-A-LEMS. Synecdoche, New York—Kaufman's directorial debut (i.e., the first of his scripts without an outside hand for checks and balances)—is a ponderous, inky cloud of neurosis and misery. It's the doldrums; it's a bummer; it's a sprawling, tentacled, squishy squid thing, too big to look at all at once. It's the unfiltered contents of Charlie Kaufman's brain. It is no fun at all.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is Caden Cotard, a successful playwright (hey, good job, man!!) with an adorable daughter and a nice house and an interesting wife (who, admittedly, doesn't love him anymore, but is played by Catherine Keener, so that's a plus) and all of those tangible and intangible things that—I know, I know (yaaaawn)—don't technically "buy" happiness, but certainly contribute to it. Unless you're one of those people who is never happy, because love is a lie, and we are nothing but sad, lonely beasts, wasting our existence on a slow, solitary, pointless slide into death. Caden is one of those people.

Or, to put it another way, GAAHHHHHH.

There is no joy in Synecdoche, New York—none of the refracted brightness that hovers around the corners of Eternal Sunshine or the gleeful absurdity of Being John Malkovich or the funny, fuck-it cynicism of Adaptation. It's possible that the sheer accumulation of melancholy that Caden drags behind him and unfurls before him is intended to be funny, in a dark, ridiculous, head-shaking kind of way. But it's not. It's just depressing.

The whole thing starts out innocuously enough. Caden putters around the house, obsessing about health—avian flu, expired milk, green poop, arthritis, head wounds—and having almost-funny conversations over the morning paper ("Harold Pinter died." "Well, he was old." "Oh, no. He won the Nobel Prize"). Soon, his marriage begins to disintegrate ("Can I say something awful? I've fantasized about Caden dying"), along with his body ("What's wrong with your face, daddy?" "Um, it's pustules").

Then everything goes bonkers. Caden wins a MacArthur grant (maybe), his wife leaves him (maybe), he has another baby (maybe), he's gay (super maybe), he is sometimes in Berlin (maaaaybe!), time becomes stretchy, and he begins construction on the masterpiece that will occupy the rest of his long, dismal life (um, maybe): a piece of real, true, honest theater; theater as a facsimile of real life, but a manufactured real life. Real life directed by Caden. It's huge and crazy and would be magnificent if you could sit through it enough times to make sense of the whole thing. But who wants to do that? recommended

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Comments (11) RSS

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Lindy West you're an idiot. Did you cut and paste that review off of a 13 yr old girl's Myspace blog?
Posted by ideas on November 5, 2008 at 3:14 PM · Report this

Lindy West IS a 13 year old girl.
Posted by danhowes on November 5, 2008 at 4:07 PM · Report this
I'm not sure if I liked it, loved it, disliked it, or hated it. I guess the one thing that's on my mind right now is this: Kaufman knows how to write a great movie. He knows how to make a great movie. This is a great movie. It's great because regardless of whether or not I end up liking or disliking it, it will be on my mind for a very long time. It's burned in my head. It's movies like Synecdoche that make you wonder why you even bother watching movies like Eagle Eye or whatever popcorn/Blockbuster flick is out. All you're doing is wasting your time. After a week you won't even remember you watched it until someone asks if you've seen anything recently. It's movies like Synecdoche that make you start a conversation about a movie, one that will last longer than "man that movie was a piece of shit" or "you know, I just really wanted to lose two hours of my life this weekend."

Also, read: []
Posted by Mr. Poe on November 6, 2008 at 7:53 AM · Report this
"It's huge and crazy and would be magnificent if you could sit through it enough times to make sense of the whole thing. But who wants to do that?"

Kinda like this column!
Posted by sego on November 7, 2008 at 1:22 PM · Report this
What is with all the Lindy West hating lately? It's not even clever hatred. It's really just the same comment over and over again, and it sounds like the same person over and over again. I ought to make a record of my findings.
Posted by Mr. Poe on November 7, 2008 at 7:22 PM · Report this
Well, weel, well, now, Lindy dear, you and rope of silicon's brad briefs certainly are of like, um, minds on this one.

Now let's read what an Actual Critic has to say re Synecdoche (and the better to understand why it sailed over Liny's noggin).
Posted by creme 'n' sugar on November 7, 2008 at 8:19 PM · Report this
Went to see this movie twice today, and, frankly, I don't see how any honest critic could possibly write a review after one viewing. There's A LOT in there, and certainly virtually endless fodder for discussion. I would encourage people to keep an open mind, not worry about trying to decipher what the movie "means", go with a friend or two to see this movie, and make time to talk about various elements of the movie afterward.
Posted by 5ivelakes on November 7, 2008 at 9:58 PM · Report this
Um, that movie was BRILLIANT. Does everything need a palatable candy coating to be worthwhile?

Everything about it was fucking magnificent. And yeah, I left feeling that my soul had been scrubbed down with steel wool and gin. It was devastating. I'm still not sure I'm ok.

Does art have to be "fun" to be good, just cuz they sell popcorn and soda in the lobby? I'd rather be affected. Moved. Changed. If I want to have fun, I can do whippets and watch Across the Universe again. . . which I might very well need to do in order to recover from this genius piece of filmmaking.
Posted by violet_dagrinder on November 8, 2008 at 12:10 PM · Report this
Gee thanks for the link to the review that starts off by telling you the ending of the movie!!!!!... at least Lindy knows to have spoiler warnings! Stop questioning her journalism and write your own.
Posted by Grrrr on November 8, 2008 at 12:19 PM · Report this
And there IS joy in it. But we have to work for it.

Even if we understand every bit of darkness in the movie, even if we can identify with parts of it way more than we'd like to. . . most of us get to walk away knowing that we aren't him. That we can eventually retrieve our sanity after coping with loss, that there are people who love us and keep on loving us, that we complete at least some of our projects, and that sometimes we squeeze a bit of meaning out of the ways we spend our time.

If the film only mirrors the worst in life, and you can see all of the beautiful stuff in your life that it misses, then the film has shown you the beautiful stuff in a very personal way that it could never have done with a happy ending.
Posted by violet_dagrinder on November 8, 2008 at 12:41 PM · Report this
I dunno, I don't think Lindy's review is all that bad. I mean, she kind of doesn't give it it's due as being worthwhile for repeat viewing, but I think she does give the warning that a lot of potential viewers would probably want to have. I don't think anyone with the fortitude to enjoy this movie would be serious dissuaded by this review.

Plus, all the overblown intense commentary aside... I think she covers a lot with her different flavors of maybe, and for a mini-review it does a lot.
Posted by Daniel Talsky on November 18, 2008 at 2:48 PM · Report this

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