Theater director Caden Cotard is mounting a new play. Fresh off of a successful production of Death of a Salesman, he has traded in the suburban blue-hairs and regional theater of Schenectady for the cultured audiences and bright footlights of Broadway. Armed with a MacArthur grant and determined to create a piece of brutal realism and honesty, something into which he can put his whole self, he gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse in Manhattan's theater district. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane, instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a small mock-up of the city outside. As the city inside the warehouse grows, Caden's own life veers wildly off the tracks. The shadow of his ex-wife Adele, a celebrated painter who left him years ago for Germany's art scene, sneers at him from every corner. Somewhere in Berlin, his daughter Olive is growing up under the questionable guidance of Adele's friend, Maria. He's helplessly driving his marriage to actress ...Written by
In the scene where Caden is talking to Hazel directly after having talked to the doctor after his seizure, there is a dog in a box behind Hazel in her box office. Upon cutting to Caden, and then cutting back, the dog is gone. This is the remnants of the character "Squishy", from the original draft of the script. The almost-dead dog was found by Hazel after driving home from the premiere. She was saddened by Caden denying her, and she finds the dog, run over and bloody on the side of the road. She decides to keep it. This is the only scene where he is present, and his presence is not explained. See more »
What a trip. You can't expect a conventional picture from Charlie Kaufman, but this was super weird! So weird that half the people left the theatre before the end, either confused or offended by what they saw. Poor Charlie witnessed the whole scene and I suspect it really got to him.
The film's very much Spike Jonze in style, but grander and more ambitious than Malkovich and Adaptation. The first hour is hilarious, next half an hour is still good and you're struggling not to lose threads, the last half an hour gets really messy and tends to drag a bit. It might be due to Charlie's inexperience as a director, or it might be intentional and a means to express one of the points of the film (futility and dragging of time), or the topics simply grew too difficult to deal with, but it seems to me that the last part could have been made a bit more compact for a stronger impression. Seven to ten minutes less would have helped, if that was possible.
Perhaps Jonze would have done a better job in terms of pacing and craftsmanship, but the content is still really strong. The film had been five years in the making and you can feel the issues that Kaufman wanted to address brimming over. Illness, death, transience, love, relationships, passion, devotion, art, theatre, identity, hope, so many topics dealt with in a painfully sincere way. You both laugh and get emotionally affected all the time along with being confused by the twists of the plot and the grotesqueness of the imagery. You get many 'this is so true' moments that you completely identify with and then you suddenly get struck by a completely surreal scene. The film certainly reinforced my impression of Kaufman as a bastard son of Woody Allen and Tom Stoppard.
The cast is wonderful. Philip Seymour Hoffman has to be singled out for his magnificent performance. I have never been much of a fan of his and I was somewhat bothered by the idea of him as a lead in the next Kaufman movie. I didn't think he had a presence for that, but did he prove me wrong! Appearing in virtually every scene, the man has carried this film on his shoulders. He has created a completely lovable and ludicrous character and conveyed Kaufman's ideas splendidly.
Catherine Keener is as fun and adorable as ever! As a fan, I was really overwhelmed by this experience. I saw it two nights in a row, and spent hours discussing it with friends. The film is a bit difficult to comprehend instantaneously and Kaufman himself insists it requires a second watching. It is an amazing picture, rarely thought-provoking, and I can't wait to see it for the third time.
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