Synecdoche- A Puzzler From Oscar Winner Kaufman’s Directorial Debut

SynecdocheSynecdoche, latest film from Philip Seymour Hoffman and directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman is making Hollywood talk of Oscars’ nominations

By Michelle Foody

HOLLYWOOD, CA (RushPRnews/Hollywood Today)10/24/08 — It’s officially autumn in Hollywood and while leaves don’t fall, some of the best movies do. Those fluffy, fun summer movies are long gone and that chill in the air means more than just needing a sweater-it cues the release of films with substance. Enter famed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, responsible for mind-benders the likes of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Being John Malkovich”, and “Adaptation”, in his directorial debut. Opening this Friday, October 24th, “Synecdoche, New York” appears to be Kaufman’s most confounding, polarizing, and ambitious work to date. If that isn’t sufficient to draw audiences, throw in a cast list overflowing with headline names, and finish it off with a wallop of fresh gossip surrounding its star and producer.
Nearly impossible to describe succinctly, the film follows the life of Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an aging theater director married to an artist named Adele (Catherine Keener) who sometimes wishes he would die. Years after Adele leaves him for the German avant-garde art scene, with their daughter in tow, Caden begins work on his theatrical masterpiece, a simulation of his still unfolding life, recreated inside a massive warehouse in New York. As with any Kaufman script worth its salt, the film hinges on presenting an absurd, surreal world with a straight face. Dreamlike images make frequent appearances, but this time with no explanation.

“I don’t feel like I’m making any grand statement”, Kaufman told Hollywood Today. “I intentionally tried to go hook-less, and I’m trying to not give people the easy out, which is why I think audiences are having trouble figuring out what to think of it.”

Kaufman readily admits that “Synecdoche” elicits strong reactions in viewers, both positive and negative.

“I don’t think everyone admires this movie, I haven’t had that experience. People that don’t like it seem to be very comfortable saying that,” explains the director. “If you create something, you have to allow them to respond.”

Credit must be given to the seasoned actors who pepper the expansive cast list, many of whom are female. The film has many surreal, extraordinary moments, like the house that is permanently on fire and still fairly comfortably lived in, and yet the characters, and their emotions, couldn’t seem more real.

“I was just awestruck”, Catherine Keener admitted when she first arrived on set for make-up tests. “Every seat was taken by one great fucking actress after the next, and it was the kind of movie that could hold all of them, they’re all heavyweights. Charlie’s ante went way up, just by virtue of that.”

“I’m very in awe and enamored by Michelle [Williams],” Keener told Hollywood Today. “I think she’s a wonderful actor and person, I love being around her.”

Keener, it seems, is not the only one. Just as the film itself engages the age-old theme of art imitating life, as Caden struggles to “direct” the actor playing himself, Hollywood is buzzing with similar gossip. Williams-who plays Claire, an actress who falls for Caden, her director-has set the tabloids ablaze recently by stepping out with the film’s producer, Spike Jonze.

In a media age where private lives are subject to gleeful scrutiny, this little dollop of publicity certainly can’t hurt the film’s draw. In fact, how fantastic if turns out to be a ploy. Anything to draw an audience to a film that demands actual thought and defies all logic.