Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman has written some of my favourite movies of recent years. The films are filled with nervous artists unable to realize their life-justifying vision, mostly mired in bad relationships and always chronically deprived of self-esteem.

Synecdoche, New York is Kaufman's directorial debut and if anything, contains more sisyphian self-loathing than all of his previous works combined. Sadly, substantially fewer laughs are on offer, despite an epic performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as theatre director Caden Cotard. Cotard is married to an obscure and selfish artist Adele, played by Catherine Keener. Keener should really watch her self, she is becoming typecast as the self-absorbed wife of self-indulgent theatre directors (see her role in Hamlet 2).

Cotard is a hypochondriac, compulsive director, working out of Schenectady, New York. His plays are convoluted yet powerful, but after years of marriage, marriage counseling and the birth of their first child, Olive, Adele and Caden have grown apart.

After Cotard successfully stages a cumbersome rendition of Death Of A Salesman, things grow worse. Medicated to the gills for a variety of real and imagined health problems, Cotard feels the glimmers of a romantic spark with Hazel, the charming box office manager of the theatre, played by Samantha Morton. Meanwhile, Adele decides to uninvite Caden from traveling to Germany for an exhibition of her miniature portraits, taking Olive with her and leaving him to further descend into self-reflective self-destruction. Losing his grip on time and elements of reality in general, Cotard botches a romance with Hazel and another with actress Claire (played by Michelle Williams), only to be revitalized upon receiving an artistic endowment.

For the complete review and more, visit showcase.ca.

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