Play director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is at somewhat of a moot point in his life. His wife Adele (played by Catherine Keener), whom despises him, and has taken their younger Olive with her as she heads to the German art scene. He has unresolved sexual tension with a range of other women, from psychologist Hope Davis to box office clerk Samantha Morton to one of the actresses he is directing, Michelle Williams. In addition to this, Caden seems to experiencing the whole spectrum of ailments, from eye infections to pustules emerging over his body. When he receives a prestigious directors’ accolade with an amount of funding, Caden sets out to direct a new play that is honest to life. The line between reality and art becomes increasingly more blurred as Caden gets older and older, thus leading to his play, and the film, becoming more and more convoluted.
It was extremely difficult to enjoy Synecdoche, New York. It started with Catherine Keener wiping the bottom of their on-screen daughter, inspecting the poo (which, incidentally, was green), and then playing around with the tissue for a good 20 seconds longer, which is not a bad summary for the quality of the film: shit. I like a thought-provoking drama as much as the next person, but there’s a different between provoking thought and provoking sheer “huh?”, and Synecdoche, New York falls firmly in the latter category. Charlie Kauffman clearly wants to depict a look into the inner psyche of an artist, but what we have instead is a sprawling, meandering collection of nonsensical vignettes. Take, for example, the burning house which Samantha Morton’s character purchases. Throughout, we receive no hints to the significance to it, and the audience just sat there in bemusement.
That said, the performances are, as expected, high-class. Philip Seymour Hoffman is nothing short of dedicated to his role and manages to bring a certain level of conviction to a poorly written role that most other actors would not have been able to carry off. Catherine Keener plays the part of Adele with appropriate cruelty, in what could only be a throwback to her role in Your Friends and Neighbours. Samantha Morton, and later, her “on-stage” counterpart Emily Watson, are a delight, and Michelle Williams’ role limits her to sitting pretty for most of the film, which she does so admirably. But to be honest, all the best performances in the world couldn’t redeem this piece of unadulterated, pretentious, self-indulgent tripe. Film critics around the world were fooled by its delusions of grandeur. Don’t be one of them.