Posted by: ianstrope | April 30, 2009

Synecdoche, New York review

Synecdoche, New York: 2008 | Written and Directed by Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”)

 Saying that this film is pretentious is like saying that an Art Gallery opening is pretentious. Hell yes it is! But it can also be funny, intriguing, moving, and entertaining. This is “Synecdoche, New York”, the first film from acclaimed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

 I will not get overly technical or academic in my elucidation of this movie. The protagonist is Caden, a morose, hypochondriac Mother-fellow played perfectly by P.S. Hoffman (“Scent of a Woman”, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”). His job is that he is a playwright; he writes plays. He gets a grant, the McCarthur Fellowship, which gives him all the money he will need to bring a genius piece of work to life. He sets out to do this by playing with creating a “brutally” honest world.

My favorite Morton.

My favorite Morton.

 Get it?

This is Noonan's second meta-movie.

This is Noonan's second meta-movie.

 It is a movie about a guy writing a play, that ends up being about his life, as he is living said life and crafting said play to “‘brutally’” deconstruct his perception of personal cowardice in the face of the inevitable Existential dread of life. The plot unfolds in a series of progressively-meta-dramedy vignettes where Caden loses touch with his loved ones over the final half of his life.*

 This sort of material is nothing new for Kaufman, and i f you are a fan of his work then you should enjoy “Synecdoche, New York”.  Is Kaufman guilty like David Lynch or many other writer/directors of being derivative to the point of self-plagiarism? Sure, but, as I said before, I am no academic, so I do not have a problem with such a thing when it is competently executed and expanded upon as it is in this film. Kaufman seems to have learned much about movie directing from working with Spike Jonze (a producer on the film) and Michel Gondry, as their collective fingerprints are all over Synecdoche, literally and aesthetically.

 Much like an Art show, I would not expect this “piece of work” to have gained popular success, but the Lack of critical acclaim is a great oversight on the part of all those people that do all of those award shows. I suppose the Lack of award presence makes the film even more hip–and for those that appreciate it, that much more discr iminating–but who cares; discrimination is bad. [imo]

5/5 stars not because it is perfect but because it features a zeppelin which is an automatic 0.5 star no matter what.
*See: Bjork – Bachelorette music video directed by Kaufman colleague Michel Gondry.


The Audition – sketch from Mr. Show featuring Gondry colleague the somewhat interminable David Cross.



  1. I have to admit that I had a mixed response to this movie, I think I need to watch again to get more out of it. But to me it felt very distracted and lacked coherence. I’m sure it was entirely intentional; for instance, the timeline is entirely obscure; decades pass in single jump cuts. But it also makes it very hard to feel the emotional resonance that the film seems to demand. It let the meta-gimmick of the film stand in for a plot, so I’m left not knowing what to care about the characters besides their outward behavior in some particular circumstance.

    Of course, this is one of those films that just demand a lot of the audience, and I have been meaning to return to it to try and accept the challenge. I would like to see more about what you think about the characters, themes, and stylistic techniques used in the film.

  2. I’d be up for a more in depth discussion possibly in podcast form if you’d like to review it after … re-veiwing it. I kept most of my takes on things like theme and such out of the review because with a film this “obtuse” (to use a buzzword) it can be difficult to discuss such things without relaying the majority of the plot and in so doing kind of defeating the purpose of watching the movie. I guess I didn’t want to do this film the disservice of being overly analytical (a challenge for me to be sure).

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